Offenders risk severe penalties for school threat hoaxes

By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: March 26, 2019 | 3:15 p.m.

SURRY & SUSSEX CO. – Last week, another threat directed at Surry and Sussex County Schools was shared on social media, one in a recent spell of hoaxes that targeted the school divisions over the first few months of 2019.

The time indicated in the social media threat which had been communicated came and went, but yet again, it left behind concerned students, families, teachers, and staff, and overloaded law enforcement personnel already operating under sizeable pressure. Similar incidents are happening across the country, which prompted the FBI to address just how serious the consequences of such actions can be in an article, “Think before you post” on their website.

“Hoax threats disrupt school, waste limited law enforcement resources, and put first responders in unnecessary danger,” warned Deputy FBI Director David Bowdich in the article. “We also don’t want to see a young person start out adulthood with a felony record over an impulsive social media post.”

Some examples of threats – and consequences of same – included in the FBI’s article include:

-Two young people in Kentucky created a social media account in someone else’s name and used it to make threats against a public school. When it turned out to be a hoax, they were sentenced to 21 and 27 months in jail.

-A young person in Texas used social media and a phone to issue threats against schools in Minnesota. He ended up being sentenced to more than three years in federal prison.

-In North Carolina, an 18-year-old was sentenced to 22 months in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution after broadcasting himself on the internet calling in bomb threats to public schools and other public places.

“If you are a parent or family member, know that some young people post these threats online as a cry for attention or as a way to get revenge or exert control,” the article continued. “Talk to your child about the proper outlet for their stress or other emotions, and explain the importance of responsible social media use and the consequences of posting hoax threats.”

When asked for his take on the subject, Sussex County Sheriff Ernest Giles said, “We take every one of these threats very seriously, and always respond to each threat. They are not a joke and can have devastating consequences. Plus with limited resources available to law enforcement, responding to hoax threats diverts officers and costs taxpayers.”

Giles pointed out Virginia Code Section 18.2-60, which reads, in part, “2. Any person who communicates a threat, in a writing, including an electronically transmitted communication producing a visual or electronic message, to kill or do bodily harm, (i) on the grounds or premises of any elementary, middle or secondary school property, (ii) at any elementary, middle or secondary school-sponsored event or (iii) on a school bus to any person or persons, regardless of whether the person who is the object of the threat actually receives the threat, and the threat would place the person who is the object of the threat in reasonable apprehension of death or bodily harm, is guilty of a Class 6 felony.”

When asked what that translates to, as pertains to a penalty, Giles said, “For the perpetrator of a Class 6 felony, the consequence is up to five years in the state penitentiary and a $2,500 fine.”

“And don’t think ‘because I’m underage, I can’t really get in trouble,’” Giles continued. “If you are underage and are found guilty as a juvenile, you can be incarcerated in a juvenile detention center until the age of 18 and then be transferred to a state penitentiary.” “I just feel that parents need to pay more attention to their kids’ utilization of social media,” he added.

“To the parents as well as the students or anyone else in the community, I just say if you know something, say something. And, as a parent, if you know this is going on – and kids acting out could claim you knew even if you didn’t – in the state of Virginia, you could be charged with aiding and abetting. Folks really need to know that hoax threat are not a joke.”

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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