Authorities on Thursday charged an Orono student with threatening on social media to shoot up his school, prompting an hourslong lockdown Wednesday that rattled students, staff and parents.
In announcing the charges, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman would not specify the alleged crimes, citing the student’s juvenile status. Another student who had been sought for questioning was cleared, authorities said.
Those who knew the suspect said he was “socially awkward” despite having two close friends at the school. On Dec. 23, he posted a song about death on YouTube. He also posted a comment on Instagram asking whether anyone had thoughts of harming others. When asked by friends to explain what that meant, he said: “I don’t know. Maybe I’m going crazy or something. I have had thoughts of harming others. I would never harm someone else on purpose. Unless it was self-defense. So I was just wondering if anyone else had those type of [thoughts].”
Police were notified at 10:57 a.m. Wednesday of threats on Twitter and Facebook that a shooting would happen at noon, Police Chief Correy Farniok said.
“Orono is not safe. Today at 12:00 pm I will shoot up the school myself,” the tweet said, coming from a handle called “Anonymous Vector.”
Police determined that both threats originated from inside the high school, the chief said. The suspect was identified and found inside a classroom, as was the student sought for questioning. Neither was armed and no guns were found, the chief said.
During the lockdown, students sat in their classrooms, sometimes crouched under their desks, with chairs and other furniture barricading the doors, according to students’ social media posts. They were kept away from the windows and doors. In one classroom, students pushed a metal cabinet toward the door to barricade it.
A heavy police presence
Students returned to school Thursday to find an intense police presence. Police cars were parked at school entrances while other squad cars patrolled the area. Crisis intervention teams were present in every building.
The police presence will continue Friday.
Parents dropping their kids off Thursday morning sought to reassure them with hugs and encouraging words.
“They made the arrest,” one mother told her son as she walked him into the elementary school building.
“They got the guy! They got the guy!” she said, as the boy nervously clung tightly to the straps of his backpack.
Victoria Seals stopped at the elementary school to bring snacks for her second-grade daughter. “This is completely unfortunate and should never happen, and obviously things need to change,” said Seals, who is a member of the Orono City Council and has three kids in Orono schools.
On Thursday morning, a screen shot of the threat on Twitter made the rounds at school. Meghan Stephenson, who has children in all of the district’s buildings, recalled her teenage son telling her: “I wasn’t scared until I saw my teacher cry. I’m not used to seeing grown-ups cry.”
Superintendent Karen Orcutt offered advice to parents who might have been wary of sending their children to school on Thursday.
“Listen to the police, and listen to the school,” she said.
Two other incidents
On Thursday, two other metro area schools reported that possible threats had been investigated.
The Prior Lake School District reported that it and police investigated Thursday after hearing of concerns about comments made by a student at Hidden Oaks Middle School. The student was arrested in connection with alleged threats expressed by the juvenile toward other students. Authorities declined to release further details.
In Blaine, police received several reports of a threat people had seen on social media referencing “bhs.” “The information received was a screen shot that appeared to be from Instagram,” police said in a news release. An investigation revealed that the screen shot was taken from a news story in Belen, N.M., and had no relation to Blaine or its schools.