Two middle school students could be facing felony charges after being arrested for allegedly cyberstalking and threatening their teacher and her family on Sunday through an Instagram account called “Southwood School Shooter.”
The kids, ages 12 and 13, who attend Southwood Middle School in Palmetto Bay, Fla., allegedly used the account to start following the teacher’s personal Instagram account, then began privately messaging her, according to the Miami Herald. “You and your children are next on Valentine’s Day for making my life I’m finna kill all yo family and shoot up yo bitch ass school,” the message reportedly read. The teacher said she also found an exclamation point left as a comment from the account on a photo of her infant daughter.
The teacher contacted police immediately, fearing for her life, according to an arrest report. The Miami-Dade Schools Police Department was able to trace the account to the 13-year-old, and a when a responding officer showed up at his house, the child said, “This must be about the school shooter Instagram account,” according to the arrest report. He then implicated the 12-year-old, who also admitted to the crime, police said.
The boys have been arrested and charged with making threats to schools through social media or verbal/written communications. They were taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center without incident, records indicate.
The Miami-Dade County Public Schools district condemned the students’ alleged behavior in a press release shared with Yahoo Lifestyle. “Recent arrests of students for hoax social media threats demonstrate clearly and unequivocally that Miami-Dade County Public Schools has a zero-tolerance policy related to this type of activity,” said Schools Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho in the release.
“Parents and students must understand that any threat — real or fabricated — to schools and students is a serious matter. It is unacceptable and those involved in such activity will be prosecuted. Prank and hoax threats made against a school are counterproductive to the life-saving work of law enforcement and compromise the safety of everyone.”
The statement also discussed the impact of these kinds of incidents on the entire student body. “These hoax threats disrupt the schools’ educational environment and interfere with police officers’ ability to protect schools from real dangers; drain law enforcement resources; cost taxpayers’ money; and increase stress levels, anxiety and absenteeism,” it said.
The release goes on to ask parents to “speak to their children about the seriousness of written and verbal communications and the consequences that may result from irresponsible and possibly criminal behavior.”
“Miami-Dade Schools Police Department takes every threat seriously,” added Schools Police Chief Edwin Lopez. “We work closely with other law enforcement agencies to investigate each one. Any and all threats will be thoroughly investigated, and perpetrators will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Palmetto Bay’s founding mayor, Eugene Flinn, echoed those sentiments, writing on Facebook, “This was not a joke and it will not be treated as a youthful indiscretion.”
This is not nearly the first time the school district has had to respond to a situation like this. In 2004, Jaime Rodrigo Gough had his throat slashed by a fellow Southwood Middle School student, Michael Hernandez, and bled to death in a school restroom. Hernandez was charged with first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Additionally, Miami-Dade Schools Police have fielded 59 threats either verbal, written or communicated on social media since the start of school, according to the Miami Herald. Twelve students have been arrested as a result of those investigations.
Southwood Middle School parents received phone calls from the school’s principal, Raul Garcia, alerting them of the incident on Sunday night, Southwood mom Yolanda Perez told Yahoo Lifestyle. She said she warned her daughter, an eighth grader, that if she followed the account or anything others like it, “she’s in just as much trouble as those other kids.” Perez also said the school’s reaction was appropriate. “Threats like these are not a joke for any parent,” she added. “We live in a society where we lack respect for each other, and kids are learning this at a young age, and we need to correct it. They need to understand that there are consequences.”
Another parent told Miami news station WPLG she knows the teacher threatened. “She’s an amazing teacher. She’s really fun, really exciting. The kids love her,” she told the outlet.
The mother of one of the suspects, however, told WPLG that people are overreacting to the alleged incident, saying her son played a terrible joke.
Yahoo Lifestyle has reached out to the Miami-Dade County Public Schools district about the ongoing investigation and will update this story when it responds.