Local school district superintendents and Fresno police are urging parents to monitor their children’s social media use after several empty threats against schools this week have led to the arrests of two 14-year-old girls.
Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson joined Central Unified Superintendent Mark Sutton and Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer at a news conference on Thursday to address the slew of threats made on Facebook and Instagram this week, mostly involving accounts associated with clowns. Sightings of mysterious clowns and online reports involving clowns seem to be part of a nationwide prank, frustrating police across the country.
On Wednesday, a 14-year-old girl was arrested for threatening via social media to shoot up Roosevelt High School. The girl, a student at Roosevelt, made the threat via an account depicting a clown and said it was a joke, pointing out that it’s Halloween time. She is now facing felony charges for making terrorist threats.
Also on Wednesday, someone using a clown-related Instagram account threatened to “kill people” at Scandinavian Middle School on Thursday. Police are still looking for that suspect.
“I would strongly suggest to that individual who made that post that they immediately turn themselves in,” Dyer said. “We are going to identify who they are and arrest them. They think they can hide behind a screen name, but they cannot.”
On Monday, Fresno police arrested another 14-year-old girl for threatening on social media to shoot up local high schools. That threat was made through a Facebook account under the name Joyful Randy, whose profile picture depicted a clown. That threat inundated Fresno’s 911 call center and led to a 13 percent drop in student attendance at Fresno Unified the next day, according to police.
Even though the threats were unfounded, the act that the students actually made the threat via social media was a crime.
Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson
A Roosevelt High student admitted to that posting and said it was retaliation regarding an argument with a student at Edison High. She also was arrested for making terrorist threats.
“What we have is two 14-year-old females that have been booked into Fresno County Jail this last week and charged with a very serious felony of terrorist threats and face the potential of three years in custody over this,” Dyer said. “Their future is ruined because of something this stupid.”
On Wednesday night, two Kerman boys were arrested in connection with a social media threat involving Kerman High School. That threat was also posted to Facebook, involving a photograph of horror film character Michael Myers wielding a knife. That, too, was found not to be credible, but the boys face felony charges.
The social media threats come after a bomb threat at Bullard High School last week that led to students being evacuated. On Sept. 22, the school librarian received a call threatening to “blow up the place” around lunch time. Fresno police searched the school with a bomb-sniffing dog, and no bombs were found. Bullard High was also shook up in 2014 by shooting and bomb threats made by teens.
Fresno police and Fresno Unified are working to create public service announcements calling on parents to better regulate social media accounts.
“Even though the threats were unfounded, the act that the students actually made the threat via social media was a crime,” Hanson said. “You can have something that is unfounded still leave a huge mark on our youth.”
Dyer said thousands of dollars in police resources have been wasted in the past week on the unfounded threats. He pointed to recent school shootings, saying the threats, no matter how harmless, have caused a great amount of fear and kept students out of school.
“People are hypersensitive right now to the violence that is occurring,” he said. “This disrupts our entire community. Quite frankly, we’re fed up.”