After the horror in South Florida, America’s teenagers returned to school — to routines that once felt safe.
But a palpable uneasiness descended on campuses across the country, after police say a 19-year-old walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday and opened fire, leaving 17 people dead and scores of others wounded.
Adding to the anxiety: the spread of copycat threats on Snapchat and other social networks, where ominous messages proliferated.
Though most appeared to be hoaxes, administrators, police and school resources officers were on high alert Thursday and Friday, looking out — warily — for students motivated to threaten or engage in similar behavior.
In Arkansas, a Fayetteville High School student allegedly threatened to “shoot up the high school like they did in Florida” — and was arrested. “The police determined that the student did not intend to carry out the threat, but the act of making a threat against a school is against the law,” school officials said in a statement early Friday.
In southeastern Massachusetts, a social media post warned local high school students of a “Florida pt 2.”
And in South Carolina, a ninth-grade student at Broome High School in Spartanburg County was arrested after he allegedly posted a photo of himself on Snapchat wearing a mask and holding what appeared to be an assault rifle.
That picture was captioned, “Round 2 of Florida tomorrow,” sheriff’s officials told Fox affiliate WHNS.
When confronted by deputies, the student in the photo said he posted it in jest, police told the station.
Still, officials were not taking any chances, saying they were providing additional security at the school.
The Snapchat post spread well beyond South Carolina. In Brevard County, Fla., sheriff’s deputies arrested a 15-year-old girl accused of posting a similar threat and charged her with issuing a written threat to kill or do bodily harm, according to Florida Today. The post, which came from the Instagram username “brevardshooter,” appeared to target Space Coast Junior/Senior High School, reading, “I’m coming space coast watch out,” according to the newspaper.
Officials called it a hoax.
The Broward sheriff’s office, in the Florida county where the deadly Parkland shooting took place, said late Thursday that “variations of the post have continued to be circulated over social media with captions added to warn people not to go to various schools throughout South Florida.”
Friday morning brought more reports of copycat threats — prompting school closings in Gilchrist County, Fla., and Nutley, N.J.; temporary lockdowns in Onslow County, N.C., and Avon, Conn.; and an investigation at a middle school outside Atlanta.
A pep rally was postponed at a high school in Colorado Springs because of unsubstantiated rumors about possible violence, according to NBC affiliate KOAA-TV.
Following the “security threat” in New Jersey, Nutley Public Schools Superintendent Julie Glazer announced the school closures on Facebook, saying, “As both the Superintendent of the Nutley Public Schools and as a parent, and because of the nature of the world in which we live, there was no other decision to be made.”
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said Friday that he had ordered State Police to patrol schools across the state amid “ ‘copycat’ threats made by students threatening violence and saying they would bring guns to school” on two separate campuses upstate.
Cuomo, who assured people that the situations were under control, said there are “serious legal consequences” for anyone making a threat — real or not.
“While the emotion, facts and consequences of yet another brutal gun attack continue to be processed, we must take a firm stand against any ‘copycat’ actors,” the governor said in a statement.
In the aftermath of past shootings — including the one in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — schools nationwide will feel “ultracautious” for an average of 10 to 14 days, said Mary Ellen O’Toole, a former FBI profiler. She said the increase in threats and false alarms in the days after a national tragedy is a noticeable phenomenon.
“There are certain things that occur in our culture that can provoke the desire to engage in similar behavior,” O’Toole said. “We know the crime of mass shootings, especially like this one, can provoke someone who’s already considering it.”
Administrators and police can’t look at a threatening post — such as the one from the Broome High School student — the day after a mass shooting and say, “Aw, there’s no way he’s going to do that,” O’Toole said. She said the rise of social media use among teenagers also contributes to the number of copycat threats, in part because the person posting the threatening message isn’t able to witness the emotions of those who see it.
“When you do it behind a computer screen, you don’t see that at the other end, you’ve put somebody in tears,” she said.
O’Toole said it’s also likely that children don’t realize the seriousness and finality of school shootings. That could be the case with a sixth-grader at Nova Middle School in Broward County, Fla., who was arrested Thursday and accused of writing a note threatening to shoot up her school.
“I will bring a GUN to school to kill all of you ugly a– kids and teachers,” the 11-year-old allegedly wrote, according to NBC Miami. “I will bring the gun Feb. 16, 18. BE prepared.”
The student allegedly slipped the threatening note under the assistant principal’s office door, NBC Miami reported. Administrators said that she later made a written confession.
Security experts have said that although there are no national statistics, they have seen a rise in threats at schools — and the response from officials forced to take them seriously.
“Schools are a soft target by their nature. They’re very difficult to control, with kids coming in and going out all the time,” Johnathan Tal, chief executive of the security consulting firm Tal Global, told The Washington Post in 2015. “And it’s not just the deranged high school student or middle school student you have to worry about. It’s a really attractive target for terrorists because it’s an emotional target.”
Another Broward County school, North Broward Preparatory School, was put on lockdown after a teacher sent a text message that said she thought she heard shots, according to Fox affiliate WSVN. Police went classroom to classroom conducting a search, then lifted the lockdown and reported a false alarm. While responding to the incident, a Broward sheriff’s deputy accidentally shot himself in the leg, according to ABC affiliate WPLG.
Officials said a student at Sandy Springs Middle School, near Atlanta, posted a threat against his school on social media, which also made its way to students at the nearby high school, according to NBC affiliate WXIA. Authorities did not describe the threat but said that the middle-school student was taken into custody.
In Brooklyn, two 16-year-old boys threatened to open fire at their school less than two hours after news broke of the South Florida shooting, the New York Daily News reported. Police said that about 4 p.m. Wednesday the teenagers posted two photos online: One showed a boy holding a rifle, with the caption, “We’re gunning down tmrw,” while the other showed a boy in a black ski mask, with a caption that read, “Don’t come to school tomorrow,” according to the Daily News. In the second photo, two fire emoji replaced the boy’s eyes.
One of the boys was arrested at his home Thursday, and the other turned himself in to authorities, according to the Daily News.
In Hamilton, Ohio, police arrested a student at Ross High School who sent “a post on social media referring to the recent school shooting in Florida,” Ross Township police said in a statement. The student faces a felony charge of inducing panic and was being held at the Butler County Juvenile Detention Center, police said.
Students at B.M.C. Durfee High School in Fall River, Mass., were warned in an anonymous social media post not to go to school Friday morning because it would be “Florida pt 2,” according to the Providence Journal.
Classes were not canceled, though school officials said that additional security measures had been put in place to protect students.
“It’s always a little nerve-racking as a parent to get a call like that,” Melissa Panchley, a parent at the school and former school committee member, told the Providence Journal. “But we need to continue to live the way we live. It is really sad this is the society we live in today. It’s not surprising. That’s sad that it isn’t surprising.”
Other incidents involving guns and schools Thursday include:
- The arrest of a 13-year-old at Nichols Junior High School in Arlington, Tex., who allegedly threatened to shoot up his school with an AK-47 assault rifle, according to Fox 4 News.
- The arrest of two students at Palm Beach Lakes High School in West Palm Beach, Fla., who allegedly brought guns to school, according to the Palm Beach Post.
- The arrest of a male student at Clarksburg High School in Clarksburg, Md., who allegedly brought a loaded handgun to school, according to Montgomery County police.
- The arrest of a 16-year-old student at Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Tex., who allegedly brought a weapon to school, according to school officials.
- The arrest of a student at South Garland High School in Garland, Tex., who allegedly brought an unloaded gun to school, according to ABC affiliate WFAA.
- The arrest of a Plano West High School student in Plano, Tex., who allegedly brought an unloaded handgun to school, according to WFAA.
- The arrest of a student at Lee’s Summit North High School in Lee’s Summit, Mo., who allegedly brought an unloaded gun to school according to KMBC.
- The arrest of a 15-year-old student at Fox High School in Arnold, Mo., for allegedly making what police called a “terroristic threat,” according to NBC affiliate KSDK.
This post has been updated.