Don’t share threats posted on social media, Mobile police urge
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - A threat against several local schools quickly ballooned when others shared the original post, Mobile police said Tuesday.
The threats late Monday night and early Tuesday morning sparked an immediate law enforcement response that led to the arrest of a 15-year-old boy on a charge of making a terrorist threat. Police said they questioned two other teenagers but released them.
“Unfortunately, the tech world allows for the very fast and rapid distribution of messages,” said Kevin Levy, commander of the Mobile Police Department Intelligence Unit.
Levy urged parents and students, alike, to alert law enforcement if they see a threatening message online.
“Do not recirculate. Do not send it out to other people thinking that you’re warning them,” he said. “What you’re actually doing is expounding upon the panic. And in many instances, reposting a threat under these circumstances may also be a violation of the law.”
Levy said the threat, originally posted on Snapchat, named two high schools – Murphy and Baker – and several elementary schools that authorities did not identify. Police said the 15-year-old arrested in Mobile is not a student in the school system.
“The threat generally referred to an individual who had made a statement to the effect of shooting up the school,” he said.
Andy Gatewood, the Mobile County Public School System’s director of safety and security, said the schools went into what they call a “secure perimeter,” which restricts access to the buildings but allows business as usual inside.
“If we thought at all that there was a an initial or an immediate threat to any particular campus or there was anyone in the nearby vicinity, we certainly would have gone on a lockdown,” he said.
Mobile resident Tamarah Sanders said she heard about the threats Tuesday from a customer at the business where she works. She said she rushed to Murphy High School, where her daughter is a sophomore.
“I was scared considering all the things that have been going on,” Sanders said. ‘You have to take these threats seriously. So I saw that Murphy was doing so. They were taking this seriously.”
Sanders, a former teacher, said she was reassured by Murphy’s security and felt safe letter her daughter finish the day.
“You can’t enter the school without looking into a camera and telling who you are, your name what what’s your business there,” she said.
Levy says investigators traced the treat to a Snapchat post. That platform has gained popularity among younger users because of a feature that allows messages to be deleted after they are sent. But Levy said cyber investigators have ways of uncovering those messages.
“We feel very confident that we have traced back through investigative efforts to the origin of that posting message. … There’s a common misbelief or a subject of misinformation that if you post something on certain websites or applications online that it’s something that you can’t really be traced to,” he said. “I can tell you we have a very good success rate here.”
Levy said police take online threats directed at schools extremely seriously – even if it’s a prank.
“We have zero tolerance, and every single one of them will be investigated by the appropriate authorities,” he said.
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