Flossmoor chief: community response helped end social media threat

At mid-morning last Saturday the phone calls started pouring into the Homewood and Flossmoor police departments.

Earlier that day, a threat – promising harm at Homewood-Flossmoor High School on Monday – was posted on social media throughout the area.

Flossmoor Police Chief Michael Pulec said the posts were first shared with young people in the community. A number of young people who saw the post, many of them students at H-F, told their parents about the threat.

“It ballooned from there,” Pulec told the H-F Chronicle Tuesday. Parents started calling the police station, both to let the department know about the threat and to provide information about who might be responsible. Several showed up at the station to let police know about the post.

“The phones went berserk,” he said. “We probably got 75 calls in an hour-and-a-half.” Pulec said the response from the community was a big reason why a serious threat on Oct. 27 was resolved quickly.

The investigation started immediately with the Flossmoor department acting as the lead law enforcement agency because H-F is located in the village. Pulec said his department worked closely with the high school, Homewood police and community members to gather information about the post. Social media providers also helped track down the source of the threat.

It did not take long to identify the person who posted the threat.

“We had a good idea of who he was within an hour,” Pulec said. By mid-afternoon, police were ready to take the youth into custody, and went to his house.

After that, the youth’s parent accompanied him to the Flossmoor police station. The youth, a 16-year-old H-F student, was charged with a Class 4 disorderly conduct felony for threats of violence to a school.

Police said the youth informed investigators that his social media post was the result of a dare and that he did not have access to any guns, even though his post included a photo of a rifle.

The youth’s name cannot be used because he is a juvenile. The legal case against him will take place within the Cook County juvenile justice system.

On Sunday, another threat appeared on social media and investigators were able to quickly determine that it has been sent from the East Coast and that it should be considered a copycat post. Pulec said that post is being investigated by the FBI.

School resumed without incident Monday at H-F, although there was more security than usual as officers from Flossmoor, Homewood and the Cook County Sheriff’s Police were on hand at the school.

Pulec said the entire incident shows that harm that can come with social media and why students, their parents and other residents need to know the dangers that can result from using hand-held devices to send an alarming post to the community.

“Once you’ve hit send, you can’t take it back,” he said.

Pulec issued a statement asking for better judgment when using social media.

“We need students and the public to understand that making threats against a school is not a joke,” he said. “There are serious legal consequences for those who do, even if there was never intent to carry out the threat. It creates a lot of anxiety within the community.

“Making false threats drains school and law enforcement resources unnecessarily and costs taxpayers a lot of money. They also place a lot of strain on students and teachers that can result in losing precious learning time as a result of these threats. It is recommended that students who see threats report them to their parents, school officials or authorities but refrain from sharing them with other students to prevent fear and panic.”

Pulec said the fbi.gov website has launched a campaign to help educate the public. He asked parents to view the FBI video “Think Before You Post” with their children and discuss the consequences of posting threats.

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A great community deserves a great newspaper. The HF Chronicle was created in June 2014 as an online publication. In December 2015 we began monthly print publication, too. Our mission is to chronicle the life of our community — news by, for, and about the people of Homewood and Flossmoor, Illinois.

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