Social media threat investigation lacks information to verify legitimacy


Jamie Marlowe

Classes were near deserted yesterday following a school shooting threat, and students received excused absences. Today, the building was full with news that the threat is likely a hoax.

Jamie Marlowe

The investigation into Wednesday night’s social media threats to “shoot up” Midtown is a suspected copycat crime. A suspect has been identified but will not be released to the public.

“An exhaustive investigation by Atlanta Public Schools Police, with the help of Atlanta Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, into the social media threats made against students at Midtown High School, has determined that there is no indication that a Midtown student is responsible or involved, and there is not enough information to verify if the threat is legitimate,” APS said in a statement. “Additionally, the investigation found there have been similar threats made toward schools throughout the country since January.”

Hoax threats are crimes.

Jenna Sellitto, Public Affairs Specialist with the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office, said all threats are taken seriously, and copycat cases take away time and resources from more serious, dangerous cases with real intent. The FBI tries to minimize publicity of these cases to aid in the prevention of copycat cases.

“We will prosecute people for hoax threats if we find them; this is not a victimless crime here: wasting time, resources, you’re putting a burden on the community and scaring them,” Sellitto said. “The penalty can be stiff, and it’s a federal crime, so that’s definitely a deterrent.”

Sophomore Anna Hutcherson was one of the 15 students called out by name in the threat. She said it felt surreal to see her name on the list, but she feels better knowing the case is likely a hoax.

“I kind of figured it was a hoax; I wasn’t sure, but I was hoping it was because, of course, I don’t want it to be real,” Hutcherson said. “I feel better, but it just makes me think about our safety here and how real threats really are to students across America. It’s making me [see] things in a new way because of how real [a threat like this] feels now.”

Though Hutcherson was rattled at first, she is now feeling safer. Her parents are struggling to shake anxiety-ridden feelings.

“My parents are very freaked out by it,” Hutcherson said. “ Last night, I was wanting to go out with my friends, but my mom was like, ‘I have to check with your dad’ because they don’t want me to go out because they were worried”

APS will remain cautious in the future to ensure students are, and feel, safe at school.

“APSPD will continue to monitor social media sites and take appropriate actions to find and prosecute anyone who threatens the safety of our schools, students, or employees,” APS said. “APSPD continues to stress that safety and security are everyone’s responsibility. Simply put, if you see something, report it.”

According to APS, the district is wrapping up this investigation with assistance from Atlanta Police and the FBI. The suspect’s potential motives for sending the threat have not been identified, and their punishment is to be determined.

“Our main message is that we want the public to report any suspicious activity, even if they think it’s a hoax or not credible. It may be, and even if we run it down, and it turns out to be not credible, we can still prosecute that person and stop things like this from happening in the future.”