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Local Student Charged in 2 Snapchat Threats

McKeesport police: Juvenile targeted MASD, West Mifflin Area schools

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
December 02, 2021
Posted in: Crime and Police News

UPDATED with information about Pittsburgh Public Schools.

UPDATED with quote from Snapchat.

An unidentified student has been charged with making violent threats toward Founders’ Hall Middle School and West Mifflin Area School District, McKeesport police announced Thursday night.

The threats — part of a wave of copy-cat threats that are being made against school districts across the country over the smartphone app Snapchat — caused an increased police presence at McKeesport Area schools, while West Mifflin Area schools suspended in-person classes and canceled after-school activities on Wednesday.

The threats against Founders’ Hall were made Tuesday and Wednesday, said McKeesport police Chief Adam Alfer in a press release. School officials said police searched the building and determined the threats were “unfounded.”

“We take these (threats) very seriously, and the safety of our students and residents is a priority,” Alfer said.

Alfer told Tube City Almanac the suspect is a female student at McKeesport Area School District. Police said she was identified through an investigation by McKeesport police detectives and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Under questioning, the student admitted to police that she made the threats against both Founders’ Hall and West Mifflin schools, police said.

On the advice of the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, the suspect will be charged as a juvenile, police said.

Juvenile court records are sealed and names of suspects charged as juveniles are generally not made public.

Since late October, Snapchat users have been circulating a challenge that encourages other users to make an anonymous threat against their school using the app. The threats generally include a warning that the user plans to “shoot up the school,” according to published reports.

According to the Associated Press, CBS News and other outlets, threats have been reported at schools in California, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York and Ohio.

This week, at least 15 school districts in the Pittsburgh area, including McKeesport Area and West Mifflin Area, were hit by threats. Propel Charter Schools also received a threat via Snapchat, and moved to online learning for the day, according to a published report.

Pittsburgh Public Schools announced Thursday night that all of its campuses will be on “modified lockdown” on Friday due to “threats of possible violence against schools shared on social media,” and that all athletics will be cancelled as well.

An FBI spokesman told Pittsburgh’s KDKA-TV that threats against schools via social media are an increasing problem and that suspects could face federal charges.

Alfer told the Almanac the McKeesport Area student is only charged with the threats toward McKeesport Area and West Mifflin Area.

Snapchat is an app developed in 2011 by two students at Stanford University, and is currently owned by Santa Monica, Calif., based Snap Inc.

Snap describes itself as a “camera company” and Snapchat allows users to share photos and short messages that generally disappear after a short period of time.

The company estimates that it has more than 290 million active users and that it averages more than 4 billion messages per day. The app is especially popular with people under age 16; one social media research service estimates that 48 percent of all U.S. Internet users between ages 15 and 25 use Snapchat.

Snapchat’s website says the company takes “our commitment to protecting Snapchatters from misuse of our platform very seriously. As part of that, we work with law enforcement and governmental agencies to promote safety on our platform.”

The company says it cooperates with law-enforcement agencies and encourages users who see violent or threatening behavior to report it to their local police.

On Friday, a Snapchat spokesperson issued the following statement to Tube City Almanac:

“We have zero tolerance for any activity that threatens violence through Snapchat. We aggressively enforce against these violations and proactively report school threats to  appropriate law enforcement. Our Trust and Safety and Law Enforcement Operations teams are available around the clock and respond to reports from users, as well as emergency requests from authorities, to which we usually respond within 30 minutes. We strongly encourage anyone who sees this type of activity to report it immediately so our Trust and Safety team can take action."

Originally published December 02, 2021.

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