FBI issues warning on school hoax threats

PHOENIX (KSAZ) - After the tragic school shootings in Texas and Florida this year, the FBI and law enforcement across the country are responding to more hoax threats, often posted on social media or through texts.

The local law enforcement community says it's also happening here in the Valley, and according to one school district, a threat pops up almost every month.

"Back when I started 20 years ago as a superintendent, this rarely happened, if at all," said Dr. Curtis Finch, the Superintendent for Deer Valley School District. "Now we deal with it maybe once a month. 

The Phoenix Police Department says they've already investigated 135 possible crimes at schools in 2018, with 22 of those being deemed threats. Of the 135 incidents, 31 were generated or spread through social media. Now, the FBI, along with other law enforcement agencies, wants to send a clear message: students caught will face dire consequences, whether they're a minor or not.

Finch says he's seen students get criminally charged for making false threats, and the consequences weren't pretty. 

'It affected his college, it affected everything, so it's not a joke," said Finch.

It's not a joke, but that's what these fake threats are often meant to be. A joke.
One Facebook post at South Pointe High School in Phoenix fielded more than 1,000 calls, with many parents afraid to send their child to school. One e-mail from Skyline High alerted parents to a threatening note found in the school's girl's bathroom.

Now' the FBI is warning that a simple joke can lead to a felony charge for students 18 and over.

"We want to ensure that people understand this is also a federal crime, and you could spend up to five years in prison for making a threat," said Michael DeLeon, FBI Phoenix Special Agent in Charge.

While no one may be getting hurt because of a hoax, officials say it's costing them a lot, so they're now putting the burden of those costs on the students.

"More importantly, if you make a false threat that requires a response from emergency agencies, you can be charged with the cost of those agencies having to respond," said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

While minors will only be charged with a misdemeanor, this still applies to them. 

Officials say usually, 99 percent of threats made are hoaxes, but they still investigate every single one thoroughly and take them seriously, in case it is real. Officials want to make it clear they have a zero tolerance policy, and will take action to punish students to follow this alarming trend.

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