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A threatening comment on a popular social networking site led to a surprise meeting with the Secret Service for an Indian Land High School student earlier this month.
The meeting came soon after ILHS Principal David Shamble notified one of his school resource officers about the comment Feb. 12, according to a Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office incident report.
Shamble showed the officer a photo of a comment posted to Twitter from a 10th-grade student at the school that read “Anyone want to help devise a plan to assassinate Obama? I’m all ears XD,” the report said.
According to online lexicon websites, “XD” is a type of emoticon, which is a group of keyboard characters strung together to represent a facial expression or emotion. In this case, “XD” represents a person with extreme joy or laughter, with the “X” meant to be closed eyes and the “D” a laughing mouth.
The 15-year-old student’s “tweet” about the President of the United States was initially reported to a school instructor by another student, the report said. The instructor notified Shamble, who then reported the comment to both the resource officer and Bryan Vaughn, the school district’s director of safety and transportation.
The school then suspended the student until Feb. 19, pending a meeting with his parents.
A family member picked the teen up at school and brought him to the sheriff’s office substation in Indian Land, where he spoke with deputies, the report said.
During their conversation, the teen told deputies he posted the message earlier that week in response to something he heard in the news.
“He stated what prompted the tweet was his disagreement with Obama having sole authority to send a drone into a foreign land to kill an American citizen,” a deputy wrote in the report.
The teen removed the message after seeing several disapproving comments about the tweet and then apologized individually to those who read the message, the report said.
Deputies contacted 6th Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield to discuss whether the comment warranted any potential charges.
Barfield and his staff reviewed the tweets, and subsequent apologies, but could not find probable cause to bring any criminal charges against the student, the report said.
Sheriff’s Maj. Matt Shaw said his office also forwarded the information to two different federal agencies to see if any federal charges were warranted.
“We turned it over to the Secret Service and FBI, and I know they did meet with the student,” Shaw said. “We contacted them because obviously it’s something they need to be involved with.”
Shaw said the case is closed with the sheriff’s office.
“I think the students and his parents met with the Secret Service at their office, but I’m not sure how it played out,” Shaw said. “Though it’s resolved as far as we’re concerned (at the sheriff’s office).”
Comments taken seriously
Vaughn said ILHS and school district staff responded according to district policy and in the best interest of the students.
“Once that information came to us, we felt it was imperative that the school district report it to the sheriff’s office for them to investigate and decide where it needed to go,” Vaughn said. “My understanding is they investigated it for any state law violations and then passed it on to the federal folks.”
Despite the incident happening off school grounds, several factors warranted the student’s suspension, as well as the investigation by local and federal authorities, Vaughn said Monday, Feb. 25.
“Because of the severity, because it involved a threat and because we did not know the capacity of the individual, such as if there were any imminent threats to others, we made the decision to invoke district board policy to suspend the student for an off-campus behavior while it was being assessed,” he said. “After the short-term suspension and assessment was done, we allowed him to come
back to school.”
Vaughn said the student returned to school the following week.
“At this point, the district has not taken any further action,” Vaughn said. “Of course, if any charges or new information come to light, it certainly could be revisited then, but he is back at school now.”
Vaughn hopes the incident will serve as an example to other students about comments they make online.
“This helps get the word out that younger people need to be careful about the comments they make out there (on the Internet) because things are taken seriously,” Vaughn said. “They are absolutely taken seriously. Anytime we, as a school district, get information that anything of that nature is out on the Internet or Facebook or Twitter, we will immediately notify police because, in this day and time, it’s imperative we make reports and get the information to the right authorities.”
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416