Days after school shooting, copycat threats to Central Florida schools lead to arrests

By Julie Gargotta and Digital Media Team , Team Coverage
Last Updated: Friday, February 16, 2018, 5:40 PM EST

It's an inevitable cycle after a horrific event: copycat threats. They stretch across social media, are shared and reposted. They're joked about in school classrooms and travel in hushed bathroom whispers.

  • Threats made in schools across Central Florida
  • Law enforcement arrested kids in some cases
  • Officials want students to know this is not a joke

Wednesday's shooting in south Florida is no different, sparking a slew of threats across Central Florida. However, law enforcement want students to know that it isn't funny.

Heritage Middle School

The Volusia County Sheriff's Office says the teen began to disrupt the class by making jokes about the recent shooting in Broward County and said he was going to blow up the classroom.

The sheriff's office said the teacher warned him the comments were inappropriate, but he continued to make the comments, saying he would shoot up the classroom.

The report said the teen refused to take his seat in class, picked up a stapler and began shooting staples. That's when the teacher had him removed from the room.

The student was charged with making a false report of a bomb, a felony, and disrupting a school function.

The sheriff's office said it has "little tolerance" for jokes, and will respond to all reports of threatening statements with "thorough investigations."

The student, according to investigators, has no conflicts with students and staff and no access to firearms, and insists he was just making a joke.

Mainland High School

“If you want to play these stupid games and make these stupid threats, we’re going to come after you," said Chief Craig Capri, with the Daytona Beach Police Department. "And we’re going to take you into custody.”

On Thursday, a threatening post of a Mainland High student caught the eye of Daytona Beach Police.

“From the time this individual made this post, to the time we were in contact with him and had him in custody, was 17 minutes," said Capri.

Orange County

On the same day, in another county, school resource officers found a replica firearm, ammunition and a pocket knife in a sophomore’s backpack at Lake Nona High, charging the teen with a felony.

Lockdowns at Orange County public schools in Gotha and Windermere Friday had parents on edge.

“As a parent, you’re very scared. I’m very nervous to send my son to school," said Christine Campos, whose son attends Windermere High School. "We've only been in Florida for about six months and it's very nerve-wracking to know these things happen here."

In the case of Gotha, it turned out there was no threat. Someone spotted some men by the school, one of them with a gun, and two schools in the Gotha area were put on lockdown. When police investigated they found the men in a wooded area with airsoft guns. They weren't arrested.

Brevard County

Also on Friday, Brevard County Sheriff's Office arrested a 14-year-old girl for making a threat, allegedly altering a viral post of a student with a gun to say "Brevard shooter" and "coming for you, Space Coast" and posting it online.

“We had a lot of citizens that contacted us and told us about this post," said Tod Goodyear with BCSO. “In this case, as it shows, when they contact us, we’re going to take a serious look at it and we’re going to follow through.”

Though a judge didn't find probable cause for the charge against the Space Coast Junior/Senior High School teen -- the Sheriff’s Office said that there’s a loophole in the Florida statute, as her threat was aimed at an entity and not a person -- she may still face other charges.

“She thought it was a joke," Goodyear said. “Obviously in this case I don’t think this was the attention she hoped for, the Sheriff’s Office and a member of FBI task force show up at her door.”

“What she didn’t realize when she did this, she put a community in fear. She put a high school in fear," said Goodyear of the Cocoa teen. "There was a lot of parents that kept their kids home from school today, parents who stayed home with their kids. It goes beyond the fact of that post, it’s the resources we had to put to make sure it wasn’t a credible threat.”

Social media threats were also found in Flagler, Lake and Marion counties, which either led to the arrests of students, or turned out to be unfounded.

Law enforcement officials are urging parents to monitor their childrens' social media postings and report things they hear.

They also want students to understand the severity of what they are saying and sharing online and in classrooms.