Seven people in Central and Eastern Kentucky were in custody Monday morning after allegedly making threats over the weekend to schools in Jessamine, Knox and Clay counties.
Two teens face terroristic threatening charges after allegedly using the image of an uninvolved third person to make a threat on social media against Jessamine County schools, according to police and jail records.
Elsewhere in Kentucky, a middle schooler in Clay County was taken into custody after posting a threat on Facebook, and in Knox County three people were arrested in connection with social media threats against the school district there. Yet more districts have reassured parents through prominent social and website posts that rumors online or elsewhere were not credible threats.
Tristan H. Kelly, 19, and Cody T. Ritchey, 18, were jailed Sunday after they were arrested and charged about 5:21 a.m. by Nicholasville police who worked through the night, officer Kevin Grimes said. Both young men had attended public schools in Jessamine County, but Grimes did not know if they had graduated.
The police department worked with the social media network Snapchat to get account and other information about who made the post, Grimes said in Facebook posts. The threatening post that was shared by the public with law enforcement and many others across the city, county and state was “crucial in developing the evidence to make the arrests,” Grimes said.
The two used a social media image of an individual who “was not involved with the threats,” Grimes said. “We were fairly confident that (the person) was not involved in making the post but until we were able to make contact with him and other family members we could not come out and say that.” The name of the uninvolved individual was initially circulated.
In the the Nicholasville threat, a photo of a boy with a handgun accompanied text that said “Be ready for school monday Jessamine County.” (Actually, no classes were scheduled Monday because of the Presidents’ Day holiday.)
In a Facebook post on Sunday, the father of the boy whose photo was used in the Snapchat threat wrote: “OK so today’s another day and they arrested the kids responsible for using a picture of my son to try and ruin his life and scare the community. I appreciate everyone for the support they gave me.
“Now for the people who thrive off hurting other people and support the bullies of the world hopefully one day your eyes will be opened. In this situation my son was 110% innocent and didn’t deserve any of the bashing, and hate people said about him. Taking pics with guns is not a crime, but making threats is. My son made no threats whatsoever, so please just leave him alone. God Bless.”
Police were praised by the Jessamine school district and residents for the investigation and arrest.
“Many thanks to Nicholasville PD for their efforts in apprehending the people behind this threat to our schools. And again, thank you to all of those who reached out to them and us with information,” the Jessamine school district said on Facebook Sunday.
For whatever reasons, the school shootings in Florida and Kentucky have led to more threats against schools across the country and in Kentucky, according to law enforcement and numerous media reports. In some cases, reports about mass shootings encourage others to consider carrying out similar attacks, according to research. But others have used social media posts to create fear and anxiety only. One tactic is to make others appear responsible. Kids who post social media photos of themselves with guns make that easier to accomplish.
The Manchester Enterprise, the newspaper in Clay County, reported Sunday that “a Facebook post by a Clay Middle School student threatening violence was acted upon swiftly by the board and police agencies.”
Superintendent William Sexton told the newspaper that “authorities placed the child into custody and he’s now lodged in the Breathitt juvenile facility.”
In the Knox County case, Kentucky State Police said in a news release that police began receiving calls around 2 p.m. Sunday about a social media post threatening schools.
The threat was to kill people with guns, said Trooper Shane Jacobs, a state police spokesman.
The state police Electronic Crimes Branch tracked down the address where the threat originated, according to a news release.
The preliminary investigation indicates two girls ages 13 and 16 came up with the idea to send out the threat in hopes of getting school canceled, according to the release.
Trooper Jonathan Corey charged both girls with second-degree terroristic threatening. Their names were not released because they are juveniles.
A third person, 19-year-old Megan Scott of Corbin, who attends Knox Central High School, was charged with complicity in the case because she allegedly knew about the threat but failed to notify authorities.
Barbourville police and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office helped investigate.
“We take any and all threats seriously,” Knox County Sheriff Mike Smith wrote on Facebook.
A social media post Saturday with threats toward North Laurel Middle School led to the arrest of a 14-year-old male student, according to Kentucky State Police. The boy sent a message to another student threatening to “shoot up” the school.
After the juvenile’s arrest a few hours later, he was taken to the Breathitt County Juvenile Detention Center and was charged with terroristic threatening, KSP said.
Rockcastle and Madison school districts posted reassurances Sunday night and Monday on Facebook or on their websites that rumors of threats were not credible. Both county’s high schools will have more of a police presence.