It has been a while–a year and a week, to be precise–since a Flagler County student was arrested for allegedly making death threats involving a school. That lull came to an end today when a 12-year-old Indian Trails Middle school girl was arrested and charged before dawn with a felony count of threatening a mass shooting.
Neither the child nor her parents, who live in a new subdivision in northwest Palm Coast, own firearms. The child’s parents reported to authorities that she had suicidal thoughts two months ago, though they’d been unable to set up an appointment with a therapist.
In the overwhelming majority of such cases, the threats are spoken irresponsibly and jokingly. The evidence in this case points in a more alarming direction, with the student going through deliberate, preliminary plans before her messages on Snapchat alerted others and put a halt to it.
According to the girl’s heavily redacted arrest report, the incident appears to have originated on Monday, when the girl, a 6th grader, became upset about social media chatter that seemed to involve her. Someone out of state detected “Snapchat messages from a friend about wanting to kill people and shooting up a school.” The alleged threat was relayed to others in Flagler County, who alerted the Sheriff’s Office. (This is the first year that 6th graders were shifted from elementary schools to middle schools in the district.)
Deputies’ investigations examined some of the Snapchat messages that had been saved, among them an indication that the girl was trying to obtain a firearm from another juvenile. Deputies conducted much of their investigation overnight, in two cases waking up young students who’d already gone to sleep–one of the witnesses, then, after speaking with her parents, the 12-year-old suspect herself. She agreed to speak with deputies, but that part of the account is blacked out in her arrest report.
A sheriff’s release states that the deputies’ investigation revealed “several messages referencing killing people and shooting up the school,” and that “upon questioning, the student referenced plans to conduct a mass shooting at ITMS but they needed to gather supplies to use first. The suspect had convinced their parent to purchase them a pair of football gloves and had been in contact with another student in an attempt to obtain a firearm.”
In Florida, it is generally easier to obtain a firearm than to secure a therapist or psychiatrist. Florida law changed after the school shooting in Parkland in 2018, making written threats to kill a second-degree felony regardless of the age of the person making the threats. Dozens of Flagler County students have since been arrested on such charges, though in no case had there been evidence of actual harm planned. Courts typically sentence the offender to probation.
“We don’t like making these arrests, but we will come knocking on your door if your child makes any threat to harm someone,” Sheriff Rick Staly said in a statement. “Thank you to the parent who found messages on their child’s phone and then reported it to us so we could take swift action to prevent an incident from occurring within Flagler County Schools. I also hope this child gets the mental health help that is obviously needed.”
Mental health treatment for children had been lacking in Flagler County in recent years, but the school district and agencies like Flagler Cares now make such options more readily available, starting with counselors and psychologists at school.
The last such case in Flagler schools involved a 13-year-old student at Buddy Taylor Middle School, when that student was alleged to have carelessly made an empty threat during lunch, because fellow-students kept asking him about a rumor they’d heard.