January 21, 2010

Online threat puts schools on alert

A 15-year-old Kershaw County youth was arrested Wednesday after the moderator at an online gaming site called the FBI over threats he made to kill everyone in his school, authorities said.

A 15-year-old Kershaw County youth was arrested Wednesday after the moderator at an online gaming site called the FBI over threats he made to kill everyone in his school, authorities said.

The threat prompted officials to lock down all 20 schools in Kershaw County and send officers to several campuses because investigators initially weren't sure which school was being threatened, Sheriff's Capt. David Thomley said.

The 10th-grader, who was not identified because of his age, was arrested in class at Lugoff-Elgin High around 10:30 a.m. and admitted making the threats, calling them a joke, according to a police report.

He didn't have any weapons on him, and a search of his home found no guns or bomb-making equipment. But investigators did find notebooks and computer files with disturbing passages referencing the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres, Thomley said.

"Dark writings - there are mentions of death and just things that typically a rational-thinking 15-year-old doesn't write," Thomley said. "You can tell there is some animosity there, some anger - just things you wouldn't expect to see from a 15-year-old who is having a normal day."

The teen was playing a role-playing game on an Internet site early Wednesday morning when he told another player to "have fun watching the news tomorrow" because he was planning to kill everyone at his school, authorities said.

The moderator of the site in England called the FBI, which was able to track the computer to Elgin.

But federal agents couldn't pinpoint the address, and since the threat didn't mention a specific school, officials decided to lock down all the Kershaw County schools as well as a couple in nearby Richland County, Thomley said.

By 10 a.m., the FBI figured out the house where the threat was made and the teen was arrested, authorities said. He confessed to making the threat, and he and his mother are cooperating with investigators, Thomley said.

Kershaw County schools spokeswoman Mary Anne Byrd said it is "unusual" to lock down all district schools.

But after the teen's arrest, schools went on a modified lockdown, which allowedparents to take students out for doctor's appointments and other off-campus activities.

"We notified the parents twice, once that schools were on lockdown and once when the sheriff's office notified us (after the arrest), and we went on modified lockdown."

As a precautionary step, Richland 2 placed several schools in proximity to the Kershaw County line on a modified lockdown Wednesday, after the district's security team consulted with authorities, said spokeswoman Theresa Riley.

The lockdown - affecting Pontiac, Bookman Road, Bridge Creek and Lake Carolina elementary schools, Spears Creek Road Child Development Center and Kelly Mill Middle School - was lifted at the end of the school day, Riley added.

The teen has been charged with disturbing schools and unlawful use of the telephone - a statue South Carolina has modified to include crimes committed on the Internet. He does not face federal charges.

The teen, who has Tourette syndrome, remained in custody in a juvenile jail. He hasn't been in trouble with the law before and didn't appear to be having trouble in school, Thomley said.

Thomley thanked the moderator for reporting the threats.

"We don't have any way of knowing where this would have taken us somewhere down the road, if not today, a week or a month later. We just don't know," Thomley said. "Had the moderator not taken the initiative to contact the FBI, we might be having a press conference a month from now about something much more serious."

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