Incidents in Other Communities Fuel Threats and Fears in Saline, Putting People On Alert

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SPD Sgt. Andrew Hartwig stands next to free gunlocks available at the Saline Police Department.

At least one City of Saline teenager may face charges as a result of investigations into threats of copycat violence after the killing of four students at Oxford High School last week.

Images of the social media threats of violence spread quickly through the Saline Area Schools community, causing anxiety and tension. Officials determined the threats weren't credible and decided to hold regular classes Friday, though many parents elected to keep children home, or allowed children to stay home if they wanted. 

Saline Police Chief Jerrod Hart said cooperative parents helped police determine the threats weren't credible.

"It was a blessing to have an open dialogue with parents under such difficult situations. Our primary role is to determine if we have a credible threat as quickly as possible; does the person have access to weapons, what is their routine, and any other information we can glean about challenges or grievances they may have with others," Hart said. "Without cooperation, we have to work through the courts to obtain search warrants for physical spaces and social media accounts."

One of the hoax threats, which originated on Snapchat, implied violence might take place at 1:33 p.m Friday. As the threat spread and anxiety rose, many Saline High School students chose to leave class early. Police from Pittsfield Township and the City of Saline provided extra personnel at Saline schools Friday.

As police and school officials continue to investigate the threats, they're also messaging to the public.

Superintendent Steve Laatsch, in a Sunday email to the Saline Area Schools community, said the threats were "dangerous, fear-mongering, and irresponsible." Laatsch reiterated that concocting or participating in hoax threats could result in "prosecution, expulsion and/or suspension."

In addition, he wrote that students who see threats on social media should report the threats to a trusted adult or report threats to OK2SAY (Call:8-555-OK2SAY, Text OK2SAY, or email OK2SAY@mi.gov). He wrote that students should not stay silent - but that they should also not post the threats on social media. Simply passing on the threats could constitute a crime, Laatsch wrote, and warrant severe discipline at school.

Rather than share possible threats on social media, people should call 911, Saline Police Chief Jerrod Hart advised.

"We spent a considerable amount of time tracing threats down to the original poster along with colleagues from local FBI, Pittsfield Township and our colleagues at Saline Area Schools," Hart said. "We will present each case to the Washtenaw County Prosecutors Office for a charging decision."

When asked what sort of punishment one might face for making false threats, Hart referred to Michigan Penal Code 750.543 on making terrorist threats, which states a person found guilty is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Like Laatsch, Hart asked for parents to talk to their children about this issue.

"We ask parents reinforce this message at home and contact us with any concerns," Hart said.

Hart said many of the threats investigated were screenshots of social media posts, or information gleaned from those screenshots. This information was shared across many social media networks - but Facebook and Snapchat primarily, Hart said.

Laatsch's email said police and school officials will continue to investigate the incidents today.

In addition to investigating social media rumors in the wake of the Oxford killings, the Saline Police Department is also emphasizing the need for gun safety.

Saline Police Sgt. Andrew Hartwig is pictured with gunlocks the department is giving away to promote gun safety.

"We have many free gunlocks available at the front desk of the Saline Police Department. We handed out several during our open house but really want to emphasize the importance of securing firearms at all times," Hart said.

The Oxford shooting isn't the only high-profile incident that local police reacted to. On Nov. 21, the driver of an SUV plowed his vehicle through people participating in a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisc., killing six people and injuring 50 others. In Saline, the police and department of public works employees parked heavy trucks at both ends of the parade route on Michigan Avenue before Saturday's holiday parade.

"Extra security measures have been put in place, some visible and some not so much," Hart said before the parade.

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