Facebook threat at El Camino High taken seriously; youth arrested

Published: Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2013 - 8:34 am

The swift arrest Sunday of a local teenager who threatened a campus shooting on Facebook underscored how seriously communities take online comments in the wake of violent school incidents.

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department found no evidence that a 17-year-old El Camino Fundamental High School student was planning to carry out his threat, Sgt. Jason Ramos said Monday. But the student was arrested hours after parents and fellow students saw his post and notified officials.

"Sometimes, people are venting or blowing off steam," Ramos said. "But we can't be flip or naive about investigating these cases. Today's climate being what it is on school campuses, sensitivity is elevated."

Attendance at El Camino was noticeably lower Monday, possibly the result of parents keeping their kids home as a precaution, the school district said. Actual attendance figures weren't available.

An extra security officer was on duty at the Arden Arcade high school, and a deputy's car was stationed on the street corner near the campus.

Ramos said the suspect posted a threat Sunday afternoon to commit a shooting Monday morning at the high school. He did not direct his remarks at any specific individual.

Between 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, sheriff's officials received about 15 calls from concerned parents.

"Kids were tweeting and Facebooking each other, and this almost immediately went viral," Ramos said.

Working with San Juan Unified School District and El Camino staff, deputies quickly learned the identity of the boy, found his address and went to the home.

"His parents were extremely cooperative, and they granted us permission to search the house," Ramos said. "We were looking for means for him to carry out the threat and found nothing like that."

The boy was arrested on a felony charge of threatening to commit a crime resulting in serious injury. His name was withheld because he is a juvenile.

Ramos said deputies decided to arrest the youth and take him into custody, citing the high number of potential victims at the school.

Trent Allen, a San Juan spokesman, said schools take seriously any posts that threaten someone physically or emotionally, including remarks about self-inflicted harm.

Some postings are referred to school counselors for investigation.

"How often do students make Facebook posts that are poor choices, or can contain threats, either veiled or unveiled?" Allen said. "The truth is, it happens too often. The lesson we're trying to drive home is, whether it's an offhanded comment or you're saying it with intent, we will treat it the same. Be careful what you say."

Allen said the district will seek disciplinary action against the student.

Ramos said a specific threat of a school shooting in the Sacramento area is rare. He praised students for telling their parents, and parents for taking the threat seriously. At least one student reportedly took a screen shot of the posting before the suspect removed it, which helped law enforcement locate the youth.

Call The Bee's Anne Gonzales, (916) 321-1049.

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