Post: School Shooting Threats: The Copycat Effect

Following every school shooting, a wave of copycat threats inevitably reverberates across the country like an aftershock of the tragedy. Scores of teens–sometimes children–find themselves facing serious charges after posting a menacing message on social media. For most, it’s a hoax or a prank, giving in to a reckless impulse to wreak some havoc. But there can be serious consequences, not the least of which is starting out in life with a criminal record.

Threatening a school shooting in Florida is a felony. Students over 18 or those charged as adults can face years in prison along with steep fines and restitution costs. Under Florida’s Zero Tolerance law, school authorities are required by law to expel any student caught threatening violence or making false reports about violence and to refer the student for criminal prosecution.

If you or your child have been accused of making violent threats or false reports involving a school, the best course is to consult with an aggressive and experienced Juvenile Defense Attorney. For a free consultation with an Orlando criminal defense lawyer at the Rivas Law Firm, call 407-644-2466 or contact us online.

Charged with School Shooting Threats in Florida

Ninety minutes after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, two 16-year-old boys in Brooklyn, NY, posted a picture on Snapchat. They were posing with what looked like an AR-15. The text read “Dont come to school tmw.”  In the weeks after Parkland, police across the country reported more than 600 similar episodes as the copycat effect took hold. Police charged dozens of children, some as young as 11 years old, after a school shooting in Detroit last year.

 “Studies have shown that, generally, the copycat phenomenon lasts for maybe two weeks,” a retired FBI agent told Fox News. 

After the Uvalde school shooting, the copycat wave rippled across America once again. More than a dozen districts across Texas reported receiving threats. There were notable copycat threats in Florida, among them a 10-year-old 5th grader who was arrested in Lee County and charged with “Making a Written Threat to Conduct a Mass Shooting.” 

CopyCat Incidents after School Shootings

According to a study for the National Center for Health Research, people tend to imitate behaviors that get a lot of attention. And a school shooting–or the threat thereof–is peak attention-getting material for a generation in the thrall of social media. Sometimes a threat of violence is just a form of delinquency, a way to get out of going to school. Whatever the motivation, it goes way beyond the level of a juvenile prank and generally ends with the offender in handcuffs.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno had stern words for the Lee County 5th grader. “Right now is not the time to act like a little delinquent. It’s not funny. This child made a fake threat, and now he’s experiencing real consequences,” he said.

Also in Florida, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office arrested an 18-year-old man who posted images of himself with what appeared to be assault gear. It turned out that the weapons were harmless “airsoft” guns, but again, the police weren’t laughing.

“This type of threat is unacceptable. This man intentionally instilled fear into our community as a sick joke, but be warned, this is no laughing matter,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister. “We will do everything within our power to apprehend, and pursue charges on those who make school-based threats.”

The Crackdown on CopyCat Shooting Threats

Experts applaud the more aggressive actions against copycats by law enforcement.

“You’ve seen a huge spike in kids being arrested,” Amy Klinger of the Educators’ School Safety Network told BBC News, saying she hopes it will help deter hoaxes and serious threats. “We can’t joke about having a bomb in our bag in an airport, and so now we can’t say we’re going to shoot up our school and say that’s a joke – it’s not.” 

There are plenty of applicable laws on the books for police to enforce. A violation of Florida Statute 836.10, “Written or electronic threats to kill, do bodily injury, or conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism,” is a second-degree felony. The sentence includes up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. Related laws with similar penalties include Statute 790.163, “False report concerning planting a bomb, an explosive, or a weapon of mass destruction, or concerning the use of firearms in a violent manner.”

While it’s understandable that society reacts to such behavior with increasing severity, it’s important to remember that youngsters who make threats are going through a difficult period of developmental change and are often under the influence of manipulative social media forces. When appropriate, we must ensure that one impulsive bad decision doesn’t sentence an errant child or teen to the lifelong consequences of a run-in with the justice system.

The Orlando Juvenile Defense Attorneys at the Rivas Law Firm are ready to help. If you or someone you love has been arrested for making violent threats against a school, you need a tough and experienced lawyer to defend your rights and fight for the best possible outcome. Call 407-644-2466 or contact us online for a free consultation with an Orlando criminal defense lawyer at the Rivas Law Firm. 

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