On Friday, Sept. 13, a student at Christopher Columbus High School was arrested after posting a video on the social media app Tik Tok, implicating threats to three other South Florida high schools.
The video depicts the 16-year-old pointing to the names of La Salle High School, Belen Jesuit Preparatory School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The song “All Talk” played in the background by rapper 3oh Black. Each time a gunshot sounded in the music, he would make a gun symbol with his fingers and a school’s name would disappear as if he had shot the school’s name off the screen. At the end of the video, it shows a person cowering as shots are fired with the text “school security” above them.
“It is very hurtful. It makes me scared and mad all at the same time,” junior Madeline Dwyer said. “Hearing that a high school student posted a video about threatening to shoot up three schools including Marjory Stoneman Douglas, it just makes me sick and I hope that people realize it isn’t a joke and never will be.”
Following the video’s posting online, a student at La Salle received the video from another local teen. He was concerned by the nature of the video and decided to call it to the attention of local law enforcement.
The Miami-Dade Police department deemed the evidence in the video enough to make an arrest and charged the teen with making a written threat to kill or do bodily harm. The student is scheduled to make an appearance in court within two weeks.
“We take the safety and security of our students and our community very seriously,” Columbus principal David Pugh said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “Effective immediately, the student was suspended pending a thorough investigation.”
Both La Salle and Belen released statements addressing the viral video threats and the student’s arrest. The former school has also taken precautions by increasing the campus’s security measures. In addition, the Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese Miami, Kim Pryzbylski, sent a letter to the parents of both school’s student bodies.
“With the prevalence of social media use in our community, it is important to be aware that Florida law makes threats of violence, including through social media, a felony offense,” Pryzbylski said in a release to Local 7 News Miami. “There are significant potential consequences for a student’s threat of violence including suspension, expulsion and criminal prosecution.”
The other two schools mentioned in the video were not the only ones to address the threat. MSD sent home a Parent-Link phone call in order to inform the student body and their parents of the disturbing video. The staff also received an email about the incident.
“I just wanted to notify you that today we were made aware of a video produced by a student at Christopher Columbus High School.The student has been identified and the situation has been thoroughly investigated by law enforcement. We are sure that this student does not pose a threat to our school or our community,” MSD principal Michelle Kefford said in the call.
The teen was released back into the custody of his father, Orlando Valdes, after being held in juvenile detention. Valdes called the posting of the video, and the video itself, out of character for his son, but he also mentioned the repercussions that it had for others.
“Horrible, horrible representation of himself, his family, his community, his friends, people that know him,” Valdes said to Local 7 news.
This teen is not the only one to be arrested for online threats of mass shootings. Another South Florida student at Nova High School was taken into custody on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, after posting a graphic school shooting threat on Discord, an online messaging app. That student was charged with making a false report relating to the use of firearms in a violent manner.
Just days after the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Richard Seepersad, a 41-year-old Rockledge resident, was charged with starting a phone call hoax about shooting up a Walmart on Merritt Island.
“Threats online definitely need to be investigated,” history teacher Gregory Pittman said. “I think people make threats online because they think they’re anonymous. You don’t know which ones are real and which ones are not.”
Two men from Daytona Beach, 45-year-old Leo Arong Jr. and 25-year-old Tristan Wix were also arrested after making threatening comments towards the public.
Although creators may think that social media platforms provide them with a sense of anonymity, that’s not the case. In the state of Florida, making a threat is a felony no matter the platform it is posted on, or the age of the offender. When something is posted onto the internet it is unable to be removed, permanently creating on online image of that person and their choices.