Threaten a school on social media? You could spend big $$ in fines, time in jail
Posted September 21, 2021 10:13 a.m. EDT
Updated September 22, 2021 2:17 p.m. EDT
Wendell, N.C. — The latest social media threat against a North Carolina public school cost East Wake High School students about 60 minutes of class time Tuesday, and the cost could be much higher for the person who created the post.
Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker wants students and parents to know that a social post is not a simple prank. The instigator could face criminal charges.
"There are consequences," Baker said. "It could result in criminal charges. It could result in being expelled."
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said the person who posts a threat could be charged with "a threat of mass of violence on educational property. That is a Class H felony." That charge is the same whether the culprit is an adult or under 18. A Class H felony can mean a prison sentence of four to 25 months.
“We have cases where some individuals have been charged for this type of case where they’ve ended up paying thousands of dollars in restitution, where they have spent time in jail,” Freeman said.
The threat against East Wake High School was the second threat against a Wake County school in as many days. Parents of students at Heritage High School in Wake Forest got a message from Principal Scott Lyons on Monday about "a concerning post on social media that listed the name of our school and contained images of guns."
In the latest threat, a photo from SnapChat showed a gun and the words "Eastwake be ready."
Baker said the mention of a specific time in that post was among the factors that caught his attention.
"With all we’ve got going on today, with school shootings right here locally ... we thought it was necessary to go ahead and get ahead of what could’ve happened," he said, noting that deputies had been investigating the post for a few days before Tuesday's lockdown.
The school was briefly on a "code red" lockdown, and, Baker said, deputies were fully staffed and equipped to respond to a possible shooting.
"We came on out to make sure that nothing happens," he said.
No suspects have been identified in either of the threats.
Celia Lorenzana, mother of students in ninth and 10th grades, said her daughter told her they waited, locked inside the classroom with the lights off.
"I’m constantly calling him saying, 'Are you OK? Can you come out? Where are you?'" Stephanie Dixon, who has a son at East Wake High, told WRAL News. "All I want to do is see him, hug him and know that he is OK."
Classes resumed as scheduled before noon.
"Law enforcement officials have determined our campus to be safe for normal operations," Principal Stacy Alston wrote in a message to parents.
Additional law enforcement and security personnel will remain on campus for the rest of the week, and afterschool activities will be canceled on Tuesday to allow for a second, thorough security sweep, Alston said.
Baker said deputies would "sweep the building and make sure that there isn’t any threat or anything that may have been left by someone who may have had thoughts of causing harm."
After the lockdown was lifted, some East Wake High students chose to leave for the day with parents, who, alerted to the threat, lined up outside the school's Rolesville Road campus.
Some of them questioned the communication during the emergency.
"I felt like, maybe, if the school would’ve sent out a text for all of us to say, 'No worries. There is no active shooter in the school,' we would’ve felt better. But we didn’t get that, and some parents are really out here screaming and upset, and the tears were there because we haven’t heard anything from them," Dixon said.