Fresno police are vowing to arrest anyone who makes false threats “regardless of age” after a slew of social media posts targeting local schools were made since the Florida school shooting on Valentine’s Day.
Twelve online threats have been investigated and deemed not credible, and arrests have been made of Fresno Unified students as young as 12, police Chief Jerry Dyer said Tuesday.
“I want to make it perfectly clear: regardless of the age of the individual we’re contacting who has made these posts, we’re going to arrest them,” Dyer said at a news conference held alongside Fresno Unified staff at Kings Canyon Middle School. “If they’re old enough to make a post threatening people out of school, then they’re old enough to have handcuffs on them and be placed into the juvenile justice campus until they can come to their senses.”
A 12-year-old Fresno girl was arrested Monday for a threat she posted online Sunday targeting Tioga, Fort Miller and Kings Canyon middle schools. She denied any plans of violence, but is facing charges for making terrorist threats.
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Asante Freeman, 18, of Fresno, was arrested for making threats against Cambridge High School and posting a photo of a gun online. Freeman, a former Fresno Unified student, is facing up to four years in prison for the same charges.
“He said it was a joke. It’s not a joke,” Dyer said of Freeman. “It created an enormous amount of fear and panic among students and parents.”
A student at Kings Canyon was also taken into custody Tuesday for making social media threats, and police are investigating other such threats.
A threat targeting Sunnyside and Edison high schools Feb. 15 was tracked out of state, and others have connections outside of Fresno, Dyer said. Some of the threats are made purposefully vague, describing schools only by their acronyms such as EHS, in order to reach a wider audience online, Dyer said.
“They’re copycat posts as a result of a tragedy that occurred in Florida. People are taking advantage of that and causing fear in our own community – not only ours but across the state and across this nation,” Dyer said. “It’s time for people to wake up and realize the disruption these students are costing us. And I hope parents will get involved in the lives of their children and make sure that these posts are not occurring.”
Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson called on parents to monitor their children’s social media, and said the district will host school rallies about the issue and release public service announcements.
“We’re done. We’re done doing this,” a frustrated Nelson said Tuesday. “But we can’t do it alone.”
Nelson said the threats have led to thousands of students missing class and have sparked fear in families still reeling from the news of the Florida school shooting.
“The impact of these threats, despite not being credible, is very, very real. These actions have created unnecessary panic and fear among our students, our staff and our parents,” Nelson said. “We are here to say today, unequivocally, that this behavior is not going to be tolerated. I can’t be more clear when I say this: Fresno Unified and the Fresno Police Department want our students and parents to know that making false social media threats is a serious matter. It’s a violation of education code and it’s a criminal offense, and we intend to take action.”