A New Mexico woman went on Facebook to tell the world what she heard: Her son, a student at Sierra Middle School, “says some eighth-graders are planning on bringing guns to school maybe Monday and have a shootout to see ‘who’s the first to die. ’ ”
Jeanette Garza Alvarez’s social media post, described in a criminal complaint, led to her conviction on Tuesday, the Roswell Daily Record reported. Alvarez was found guilty of creating a public nuisance after an hour-long trial in Roswell, N.M.
The petty misdemeanor carried with it a 30-day deferred sentence and an order to pay $29 in court fines, the Associated Press reported. Alvarez’s defense attorney, Luke Ragsdale, told AP that his client’s First Amendment rights were violated, and they plan to appeal the conviction in district court.
Alavrez isn’t alone: Others across the country have faced criminal charges for what they’ve written on social media. This year, a 12-year-old girl in Fairfax, Va., was charged with threatening her school for an Instagram post that used the knife, bomb and gun emoji.
The Supreme Court has waded into the debate, too. Last year, it threw out a Pennsylvania man’s criminal conviction for violent Facebook postings.
Alvarez posted the message on Jan. 29, and, according to the criminal complaint, she also wrote “apparently the school found out too and they made an announcement on the intercom what to do if this really happens: Hide under desk, remain calm, etc.,” the Daily Record reported. “What is going on these days? I’m sickened and afraid. I wish I never had to send my kids out in the world.”
An officer wrote in a criminal complaint that Alvarez “stated she only made the statement to gather information on what she had heard from her child,” the Daily Record reported.
After Alvarez’s post that Friday, about 160 students skipped school the following Monday, leading police to cite Alvarez for creating a public nuisance, NBC affiliate KRQE reported.
“Her concern for her son’s safety and for other students’ safety was certainly understandable, but what should have been done was to call the school, call the police department, let them know what she had heard,” Roswell Police spokesman Todd Wildermuth told the station.
The school system also received at least 110 phone calls about the Facebook post, police wrote in the criminal complaint, according to the Daily Record.
Alvarez’s lawyer told AP that “there’s no law that requires” her to contact school officials rather than post questions online. “She didn’t tell anybody to not go to school,” Ragsdale said. “She didn’t even tell her own child to not go to school.”
Schools in Roswell have received numerous threats in recent months, including at Sierra Middle School, where two students in January were cited for leaving a threatening note, the Daily Record reported. Another three students at the school are under investigation for allegedly threatening a school shooting via social media, the newspaper reported.
Roswell Schools Superintendent Tom Burris told the AP that Alvarez’s Faceboook post was inappropriate and alarming.
“I think that the things that are on Facebook can be very disruptive to school,” he told the wire service. “It’s the (old) rumor mill issue that I say one thing and then it gets taken by somebody else in another way, and then in another way, and then another way, and pretty soon you’ve got a problem. I think it started out as inappropriate.”