WHS student faces felony after social media post threatening violence

Published 2:09 pm Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Washington High School student was taken into custody Thursday morning after allegedly posting a message on social media threatening violence at Washington High School.

The 15-year-old suspect, whose name has not been released due to his age, faces one felony count of making a false report concerning mass violence on educational property, a class H felony.

According to Lt. Jim VanLandingham, with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division, the student was apprehended Thursday morning upon arrival at Washington High School, at which time he did not have any weapons on his person. VanLandingham said that initial indications pointed to the threat not being credible. He was unable to comment on the suspect’s access to weapons at home or elsewhere.

According to a press release from the sheriff’s office, investigators became aware of the threat just before 11 p.m. Wednesday evening. The individual reporting the threat saw the post on his Facebook newsfeed and contacted authorities. The post is believed to have originated on Instagram.

In the post, the student threatened to “shoot WHS tmr omm” and warned other students “don’t kome to sxhool if u don’t wanna die.”

According to the release, Sheriff Ernie Coleman was notified and ordered deputies to verify or disprove the threat. After the initial report, Beaufort County emergency communications received numerous calls from concerned residents asking about the threat and BCSO response.

In addition to the assigned school resource officer, BCSO increased law enforcement presence at the school on Thursday.

The release states that the juvenile suspect’s phone was seized as evidence and that he received immediate disciplinary action from the school. The suspect was taken into custody and charged by Sgt. Walt Zerniak. As of Thursday afternoon, the student was being held in the Pitt Juvenile Detention Facility.

Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Dr. Don Phipps said he was first made aware of the situation early Thursday morning, after receiving multiple contacts overnight.

“They were working on it through law enforcement last night and had been in contact with the principal to determine where the threat was coming from,” Phipps said. “They did exceptional work in coordinating their efforts and communicating with our folks.”

Due to student confidentiality, Phipps said he could not comment on the nature of any disciplinary action taken against the student. According to the Beaufort County Schools’ code of conduct, students may face long-term suspension or expulsion for making a threat of physical attack with a firearm.

“Ultimately, I’m going to look for the most severe level of school discipline that I can impose on an individual who perpetrates an act like this, while also making sure that we work towards criminal charges through the court system,” Phipps said. “We simply can’t tolerate it. It shouldn’t go on, and when it does, we need to be swift and decisive in the responses we have.”

BCS faced a similar situation in February after a non-local threat emerged on social media, prompting response from the school system and increased police presence at local high schools. That threat was also found to not be credible.