Student’s comment about school shooting caused panic, but he will not be charged

A 19-year-old Oak Harbor High School student who made comments about a school shooting on a messaging app will not be charged with a crime.

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks explained in an email that his office “had the benefit of reviewing the police investigation one step removed from the panic that took hold of the school.”

“It appears that the community response, while understandable as events were unfolding, got ahead of the facts and the intent of the involved young men,” he wrote in an email. “Based on the investigation presented to us so far, we do not have sufficient evidence of a crime to prosecute.”

During the week before the winter break, rumors of a possible school shooting at an assembly spread around the school. Principal Nate Salisbury sent an email to students and families Dec. 19, explaining that the police and the schools staff investigated the rumor and found that it was unsubstantiated.

Yet the rumor apparently inspired a 19-year-old student to make comments about school shootings to another student on the Snapchat app. The comment were public, spread quickly on social media and fueled speculation, according to a police report.

The district’s school resource officer’s report describes the Snapchat conversation. The suspect asked “lmao so you want to get shot or best (sic) up in the new question?” and wrote that “School shooter is nice to bring back,” the report states.

The young man who allegedly wrote the comment was late to school Dec. 20, arriving just prior to the assembly. He refused to give his backpack to school staff, causing “obvious alarm,” the report states. The officer, however, contacted the student in the main lobby, took his backpack and escorted him to an office. He did not have any weapons.

The student told the officer that he was not serious about the threat and had not intended to cause alarm, the report states. He said he made the comments after hearing about the earlier rumor, which gave him the idea.

The student admitted to being upset and unhappy, saying he had lost friends in the past year and other students had been picking on him, the report states.

The officer wrote that the comments caused “alarm and panic for many students,” some of whom did not attend the assembly because of concerns. Parents held some students from going to the assembly and at least one student was taken out of school, the report states. The school received numerous phone calls from worried parents.

The officer wrote that the student’s behavior had been erratic. The officer described an incident the day before in which the student called 911 to report he was locked out of his house, which turned out not to be true. Police found him lying in the grass in front of the school.

The officer arrested the student at the school. He appeared in Island County Superior Court Dec. 20 and the judge found probable cause existed to believe the student committed the crime of threats to bomb or injure property.

The judge set bail at $25,000, but the prosecutor’s office had him released Dec. 24.

“Based on the investigation presented to us so far, we do not have sufficient evidence of a crime to prosecute (the student),” Banks wrote, adding that there also wasn’t evidence to compel the student to get a mental-health evaluation.

In the emails sent to families, Salisbury wrote that the school does not tolerate any threats, even in jest.

“Be assured that any threats to student and staff safety will be dealt with swiftly and seriously,” he wrote. “In addition to criminal charges, students making threats are subject to disciplinary action according to our school district’s policies and state law. We do this because a safe and secure learning environment is our top priority.”