School threat results in arrest

School threat results in arrest

By Ruthann Carr, correspondent

Fluvanna school administrators, teachers, parents and students faced a uniquely modern fear Tuesday (April 10).

Someone used social media to warn Fluvanna students not to go to school.

Two emojis were attached to the post: a skull and a handgun.

Capt. David Wells said the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office learned of the threat from the school administration at 7:30 p.m.

“The juvenile was taken into custody at 9:20 p.m. on April 10,” Wells wrote in an email. “We informed the school administration that he was taken into custody shortly after it occurred the night of April 10.”

At 9:07 p.m., just minutes prior to the arrest, Fluvanna County Public Schools (FCPS) posted on its Facebook page:

“FCPS were made aware of a social media threat earlier this evening.

Administration is working in close collaboration with local law enforcement.

Our top priority is the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff.

At this time there is no concern of any future danger for any member of our Fluco community.

We will continue to work with the sheriff’s department regarding this incident.

If there is any additional information we will share it with you accordingly.

Thank you.”

This post brought a flurry of comments such as:

“Don’t think it’s safe enough to send these babies to school without details!” from Tammy Taylor.

“It’s not safe…don’t want to send my kid to school…he is all I got!!!” from Dana Award.

“Don Stribling are we allowed more details please??” from Stacey Washington.

“Not sending my child,” from Judith Hamm.

“I agree, if you feel that it was credible enough to involve the sheriff’s office and are asking for further info, you can’t possibly know there is not any future danger to Fluco students. My children will be home tomorrow as well,” from Mel Sue Irvin.

None of the comments were answered by school officials on Facebook.

A press release posted at 11:56 p.m. on the sheriff’s office Facebook page reported the arrest:

“The Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office received information about a potential threatening post on social media. The post was a photo that indicated a threat towards the Fluvanna County Public Schools. The juvenile in the photo was identified by law enforcement and arrested. The juvenile was served a petition and ordered to be held in custody at the Blue Ridge Juvenile Detention Center. It appears that this was an isolated incident, and there are no indications that staff or students were in danger at any time.”

FCPS shared the news of the arrest at 7:16 a.m. Wednesday (April 11).

The Fluvanna Review sent questions to the sheriff’s office and to the public schools. Wells answered for the sheriff’s office; Don Stribling, executive director of human resources, student services and operations, answered for the schools.

In what form of social media was the post? Was it to a specific person or group or page?

Wells: The threat was posted/sent via Snapchat.

What about the post made you consider it a threat?

Wells: “@fluvanna kids DON’T come to school tomorrow” with an emoticon of a skull and a gun.

Was attendance on Wednesday normal or much less than normal?

Stribling: Informally there were no updates that day from administration regarding abnormalities from a school or transportation perspective.

Who worded the Facebook alert message to parents? How else was the community told?

Stribling: [Superintendent Chuck] Winkler and I created the message while communicating with the sheriff’s department with regards to their active investigation.

How was it brought to the attention of the school or police? Does the school or law enforcement police certain sites looking for this type of thing?

Wells: We were notified by the school after they were informed by persons who saw the post.

Is this the first threat this juvenile has made or have you heard reports of other threats by this person?

Wells: The person who made the post is a juvenile, by law (§16.1-301), I can’t release any personal or involvement information.

Stribling: The division cannot release student information from a privacy standpoint, whether that answer be yes or no, but with any situation that occurs we review all information available to us to make informed decisions.

What advice do you have for the community when it comes to commenting on social media regarding this kind of issue?

Wells: We would ask any person who sees or receives a threating post, Snap, Instagram, or other type of message to please screenshot the entire screen. It is very important that we get the user ID and any URL information that may be attached. When the image is forwarded, that information can be lost. Also, many sites have usernames and vanity or screen names; we must have the username to track the account. Also, please contact us as soon as they see the threat rather than just forwarding the post on to other people. Time can be critical in these cases. The sooner we can start investigating the post, the more quickly we can identify and locate the poster.

Stribling: The school division’s Facebook pages are informational sites and not forums for discussion. The division, schools, and departments will share and release as much information that we legally can, using a variety of platforms including social media, when situations or events arise. Our aim is a proactive effort so parents, families, and community members can make the most informed decision possible for themselves and their students. If the division obtains additional information regarding a specific situation we will always share as appropriate. Our main priorities include addressing situations in the most effective and efficient ways possible while at the same time communicating with our families, using these platforms, and making them aware of happenings within the school system. We always encourage our families to reach out and follow up with their child’s specific school or administrative team but also hope they understand there is certain information we cannot share with them in a setting such as Facebook.

What have you learned from this experience?

Wells: Social media can be very powerful; it can help spread information, for better or worse, like wild fire. Again, we ask that people call us as soon as they see the threat with as much information as possible. If we get that threat after it’s been posted and reposted, much of the tracking information is lost. We really have to get as close to the source of the original post as possible. We would also ask that parents vigilantly monitor their kids’ online activity and devices. We hope that people understand that many of the threats come from juveniles; by law, we are limited in what information can be released.  The Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office takes all threats very seriously. The safety of our schools is paramount. We have to treat every threat as a valid threat until we can determine otherwise.

Stribling: That we will continue to be active and vigilant in our efforts to maintain a conducive educational setting for our staff and students. More importantly, it reaffirms that we will continue to be proactive in building strong relationships, based on open communication that is needed and wanted by the school system, with our families, community, and local agencies to provide an outstanding and safe experience for our students.

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