Social media rumors of Frederick County school threats investigated -- Gazette.Net







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This story was updated at 6:10 p.m. on Dec. 20, 2012.

A male student from Middletown High School was transported to Frederick Memorial Hospital for an emergency evaluation on Thursday as local law-enforcement officials continued to investigate rumors of threats to county schools on social media sites.

The student made threats to harm himself but he had no means to carry out his plan and did not make threats to harm anyone else, according to Jennifer Bailey, a spokeswoman for the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.

He will not face any criminal charges, Bailey said in an email to The Gazette.

She could not provide any further information about the incident. But according to a message that Middletown High Principal Denise Fargo-Devine sent out to parents on Thursday, the student was taken out of school after students and staff noticed that he was “posing a potential threat” and “posting inappropriate material on social media.”

The principal contacted the sheriff’s office and deputies swiftly responded to investigate, the message said.

“Because this is an ongoing investigation, I am not at liberty to share many details,” Fargo-Devine said in the message. “I can tell you that there was never any weapon on school grounds and that at no time was there an immediate danger in our building.”

Fargo-Devine also thanked staff and students for coming forward with the information.

School system spokesman Michael Doerrer declined to provide details about the inappropriate information that the student had posted online, but he stressed that the school is safe.

The news of the student’s hospitalization came as rumors of threats circulated through a number of school communities across the county.

The rumors have been popping up on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook since Wednesday while residents were still reeling from the news of last week’s horrific shooting in an elementary school in Connecticut.

Besides the incident at Middletown, the rumors of threats in the county have proven to be unsubstantiated, Bailey said.

But law-enforcement and school officials are still following up on every tip and report, officials said.

“Our deputies are following up,” Bailey said. “We are aware of these rumors, and we are tracking them. But right now, there is no evidence of a credible threat.”

Since Friday, when shooter Adam Lanza reportedly entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and killed 20 first-graders and six school staff members, local law-enforcement agencies have increased their presence and patrols at schools across the county.

She said authorities are now continuing that effort as they try to respond to the social media rumors.

Bailey said the incident in Middletown was unrelated to rumors of threats in other schools, although she would not say what those threats concerned or which specific schools were targeted.

However, she said deputies are working on tracking down where the rumors originated. If they discover that the threats were spread with malicious intent, the sheriff’s office will press charges, Bailey said.

“We take threats very seriously,” she said. “If it is appropriate to charge somebody, we would do so.”

Bailey noted that last week’s shooting has heightened awareness about student safety, which may have potentially contributed to the spread of the rumors.

“Other communities are experiencing the same kind of threats,” she said.

If the sheriff’s office finds any evidence that the threats are substantiated, officials will immediately notify the school system and the community, she said.

Bailey urged parents to contact law-enforcement officials with any suspicious information and to monitor their children’s social media sites.

The sheriff’s office is working closely with other local law-enforcement agencies and Frederick County Public Schools, which has also asked staff members to pay special attention to students’ online activities.

“We are carefully monitoring any kind of rumors,” Doerrer said. “We are dealing with lots of different kinds of rumors from different schools.”

In a time when the community has a heightened sensitivity to student safety, the tone or intent of messages can be misinterpreted, he said.

Although the shooting in Connecticut is the main reason for the concern, the belief in some circles that Friday will also mark the end of the world under the Mayan calendar — which is getting much attention on the Internet — may also be adding to the increased nervousness of the community, he said.

“It’s been a difficult week,” he said. “It is all coming together.”

In the meantime, parents have been very active in monitoring any developments related to the threats, officials said.

Since the news of the threats surfaced Wednesday, the sheriff’s office Facebook page, which announces the most recent updates on the threats, has received its biggest jump in membership — from 1,530 to 1,653 “friends” by Thursday morning.

The school system has also been hearing from parents who, in almost all cases, have been positive about the way the school system is handling the problem, Doerrer said.

“Our community has been very supportive,” he said .