Is the 24/7 media coverage of school shootings to blame for the insane number of copycat threats schools across America are being inundated with? Immediately following the Marjory Stone Douglas High School shooting, the media capitalized on the tragedy to push their gun-control narrative, bombarding their viewers with constant coverage of the shooter and speculation about what drove him to commit such a heinous crime. But is it really responsible for the media to cover a kid who has been described as a student who was ostracized from his classmates, and clearly has some serious mental issues, and turns him into some sort of hero for other kids who may be feeling left out or bullied by their classmates? Is the media actually encouraging this type of behavior with their 24/7 coverage, by turning this teenage mass murderer into a household name?
USA Today – Breathless and whispering through the phone, a 13-year-old student called for help from her Ohio high school.
“Help,” she said in between whimpers. “He’s got a gun. He’s got the gun in my mouth.”
Anxiety was already running high: It had been only a week after the deadly shooting in Parkland, Fla. Police dispatchers then got three other calls from Withrow University High School in Cincinnati.
But it was all a hoax.
It’s a stunt that other teens and kids across the nation have pulled after tragedies, creating fear in communities and bringing costly investigations by police and federal agents who have no choice but to take the threats with deadly seriousness.
The rise in threats after a high-profile mass killing is nothing new. But the incidents are hard to quantify because they are not tracked nationally by any government agency.
A review by USA TODAY of published accounts, however, paints a clear picture of a growing problem that is no joke.
More than 130 threats were reported and analyzed by the USA TODAY NETWORK in the nine-day span after the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland left 17 dead. Also, non-profits such as the Educator’s School Safety Network have compiled a list of the threats using news media reports. The group found that a jarring 638 threats targeted schools in the two weeks after the Parkland shootings, a number they say is probably on the low side.
Following the deadly Florida rampage, panic swept schools from Maine to California, leading to lockdowns, school closures and deployment of bomb-sniffing dogs.
The dramatic rise in threats — from 10 to about 70 a day — has left school administrators and authorities walking a fine line in dealing with a threat’s credibility. It’s also worried parents who fear sending their children to school and shined a spotlight on the legal debate over what penalties kids should face.
At the root of the problem, experts say, are students who are too young to realize the severity of their comments.
“There are usually two common traits in these individuals,” said Mary Ellen O’Toole, a former FBI profiler. “They’re young, and their judgment is poor. I mean, a brain isn’t really fully formed until your early 20s. Then, it’s also people who want to be disruptive and affect how the school is operating.”
Some threats were real and law enforcement was able to thwart the plot before it came to fruition, but the larger number of the scares weren’t credible, meaning the person suspected of making the comments wasn’t planning to harm others and didn’t have access to weapons.