Suspicious SnapChat posting prompts Columbia school to issue threat warning
COLUMBIA - Over the weekend a student at Oakland Middle School posted song lyrics to his SnapChat, an activity that his mother says he does every night. The song he chose, "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People mentions bullets and gunfire.
This use of social media alarmed his fellow classmates, and they alerted authorities.
Community Relations Director of Columbia Public Schools Michelle Baumstark said the students that reported this activity should be applauded.
"They did exactly what we tell them to do," Baumstark said. "We reinforce that on a regular basis with our students. To report anything to us, and then let the adults do what they need to do, to determine whether or not any threat is credible."
What makes a threat credible or not remains a gray area. The young man's mother said her son is being mistreated as he never intended to threaten anyone. He was originally charged with a terror threat, but that has been reduced to a disturbance of the peace over the weekend. Yet he still remains in police custody.
Baumstark said all threats made against the school district are treated equally serious and his prolonged detention has a purpose.
"I can't speak specifically to this particular situation because this student is a juvenile and by law all student information is confidential and private," Baumstark said. "In general, there would be evidence or probable cause that would warrant an individual being taken in to custody, such was the case this weekend."
The young man was set to be released Monday afternoon, but upon further investigation police discovered a photo on his Facebook page that suggested he may have access to firearms.
His hearing and release have been postponed until his home can be properly swept for weapons.
His mother, who asked to be left anonymous, says the weekend's events have evolved and been blown out of proportion. She believes the district is now trying to make an example of her son, looking for reasons to punish him.
Baumstark argued that the school district must create an environment that has zero tolerance for all questionable material as anything could be perceived as threatening, but moreover, that students should feel comfortable speaking up.
"The most important thing that we want to have occurring is one, for there to be good choices being made by all of our students when it comes to the use of social media and in communicating with others, to not create a situation where there could be a perceived threat of any kind," Baumstark said. "Also for students to say something. If they see something that makes them feel uncomfortable, scared or threatened, in any way shape or form, we want our students to tell a trusted adult."
CPS was scheduled to host an open safety and security update meeting Feb. 22, but it was postponed due to weather and the Parkland shooting in Florida.
The event, now scheduled for March 22, will showcase upgrades installed across the district, including new secure entryways, digital watchdog systems and active shooter training exercises.