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Alleged tweet leads to teen’s arrest in Gloversville

Police say student threatened to ‘shoot up’ high school

January 7, 2014
Updated 8:38 p.m.
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— An arrest stemming from a Twitter posting Monday is leading to a lesson on consequences for students at Gloversville High School.

Police charged 16-year-old student Brandon A. Fernandez with falsely reporting an incident after they say he tweeted a threat to “shoot up” the school Monday.

It’s the second arrest related to social media since school started in the fall. A Hamilton County man was charged with felonies in September after allegedly threatening to attack the Gloversville school “Columbine-style” in a message to a 14-year-old student over the social media site Snapchat.

The case against Trevor Blanchard, 24, of Speculator, is pending. He was charged with making terroristic threats and disseminating indecent materials to a minor for allegedly threatening the school after the student refused to send him indecent pictures of herself.

Students may not realize the impact simple statements — even if made in jest — can have on a community, said Gloversville schools Superintendent Michael Vanyo.

“Even if they’re making a joke, we have to take every threat seriously,” he said.

The district asked the Gloversville Police Department to talk with students to get the point across, Vanyo said.

“We feel that since this happened in September with somebody outside of the district, it’s probably important for us to get out and make sure kids are aware there could be consequences,” he said.

Fernandez allegedly made a statement over Twitter to express his displeasure with music playing over loudspeakers at the high school. The school, in an effort to bring some levity to the hallways, plays tunes between classes on Music Mondays.

Vanyo said it’s his understanding the music that proceeded the alleged tweet was the theme song for the animated “Jimmy Neutron” show.

Cellphones and smartphones provide students with easy access to research and tools such as calculators, and there’s no plans to ban them, he said. He said they can serve as important tools for students, but they also lead to the difficult task of trying to monitor their use to ensure electronic devices are not disruptive.

Instead of telling students to avoid social media, Vanyo said the lesson for pupils focuses on their decisions.

“You’ve got to make smart choices,” he said.

Gloversville police Capt. John Sira — a member of the Northville Central School District Board of Education — said the growth in social media outlets has forced police to adapt and wrestle with the meaning behind posts and tweets and other messages.

“The biggest problem with any type of written word or any type of communication like this is the interpretation, the sender’s intent,” he said. “I may read it one way, and you may read it another way. What you don’t have is the underlying circumstances surrounding the initialization of the message.”

Youths who get tangled with the law after posting on social media sites are likely not aware of how often it leads to regret, as in cases where employers find an objectionable posting by an employee.

“It happens all the time. Even though you may not be at the school or at the police station, when you get home and you’re posting something … you’re still recognized as a representative of a particular entity, that could put you in jeopardy of losing your job,” Sira said.

In his opinion, restricting the use of mobile devices wouldn’t be a bad thing.

“Are we making people more apt to interface with people through mobile devices? Are we losing our face-to-face ability to talk to people?” he said.

State police are regularly updating procedures on how to secure subpoenas from companies that run social media sites, said Lt. Kathryne Rohde, a member of the New York State Police Computer Crimes Unit. Sexting — the practice of sending lewd photos via cellphone messages — and cyber-bullying are other issues that have drawn police to focus on social media, she said.

“It’s definitely a growing issue,” Rohde observed.

Although messages on some social media outlets such as Snapchat disappear soon after posting and cannot be retrieved, Rohde said police are honing their skills at finding who sent a message.

“It’s very difficult to remain anonymous,” she said.

Rohde said state police conduct workshops and talk at schools to help parents, teachers and students make better and safer use of social media.

Fernandez was arraigned Monday in Gloversville City Court and released on an appearance ticket.

 
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