No laughing matter
As bomb threats continue, charges pile up against Highland Park High School prankster
For almost three months, a plaid prankster has held Highland Park High School hostage. There have been so many threats against the campus since January that it’s hard to keep track of them all.
By my count, there have been four letters threatening violence, one box of bullets in the bathroom, a handful of menacing text messages and at least one ominous email. Classes have been canceled twice to allow the bomb squad to comb the grounds.
In addition to University Park police and campus security officers, the FBI is involved in the investigation. On March 1, Crimestoppers announced a $10,000 reward for information on the crimes.
If police classify the letters as terroristic threats, the perpetrator could face five felony charges, each of which carries up to 10 years in prison.
It’s assumed the perpetrator (or perpetrators) is a male student, considering most of the letters were found in the boys bathroom. But all we know for certain is that it’s someone on campus. Despite enhanced security and a five-figure reward, the prankster remains anonymous and active.
It never was cute to threaten the lives of your peers, but the charges this kid has racked up are getting ugly. Should police classify the letters as terroristic threats, the perpetrator would face five felony charges, each of which carries up to 10 years in prison.
The letters, emails and text messages could also be classified under the misdemeanor charge of “making a false alarm,” which carries a one-year jail term. But University Park Police Capt. Leon Holman says that won't happen.
“Because of the number of threats, the charge would be enhanced to a felony,” Holman says.
In recent communiqués, Highland Park High School officials have called the threats “a hoax” and stood up to their bully, often refusing to cancel classes or put the campus on lockdown at all. When your school is shellacked with near-constant threats, the proper response is a tightrope walk of bravery and discernment.
“We have to take each one that comes in as an actual threat, even though you start to believe it is a hoax,” Holman says. “As soon as you don’t take it seriously, it will be a real one.”
I’ve wanted to write this column for months, but I hesitated to give the culprit any more press than absolutely necessary.
I’d hoped spring break would be a turning point, that the teen would leave a life of crime behind on the slopes in Colorado or the surf of Mexico. Instead he returned, seemingly rejuvenated in his criminal ways. A new threat — this time via text message — rocked campus Tuesday morning.
The only thing I’d enjoy more than the threats to stop is the guilty party to face justice. It is pretty unbelievable that teenagers have been able to keep their mouths shut this long. But everyone has a breaking point.
HPISD is considering adding days at the end of the school year to make up for the lost instruction time. Classes have only been canceled twice, but the school day has been disrupted with every threat.
Parents often opted to pick up their children as soon as a threat was levied. It’s hard to blame them for doing so. When bomb threats are so commonplace that parents barely bat an eye, you know you’ve lost the peace of mind that schools once offered.
As much as we’d all like to see an end to the threats, continuing them is the most likely way this kid will get caught. Until that day comes, the community is left with the difficult task of striking just the right balance between bravery and caution.