Edmonton police have charged two teenagers with uttering threats for online posts involving Harry Ainlay, McNally and J. Percy Page high schools.
Both youths are under the age of 18. Police said the first was linked to threats made against Harry Ainlay. The second, police said, was connected to threats made against McNally and J. Percy Paige. Police have not revealed the genders of those charged but said they were students at the schools.
“Both young people charged were authors of an online discussion that was inciting violence,” EPS School Resource Officer Sgt. Emuel Chan said.
The teens were arrested Wednesday after investigations that included the Edmonton Police Service Cyber Crimes Investigation Detail and the School Resource Officer Unit.
“When we’re talking about a threat to hurt, to kill at a school using weapons, using knives, using guns, that cannot be tolerated and that’s exactly what we’re reacting to today,” Chan said.
Police have “zero tolerance” for online threats and “take this very seriously,” he added.
“You have to take responsibility for what you say online. Yesterday, that led to criminal charges.”
The social media platform used in these cases was Instagram, Chan said.
He credited the school resource workers with helping in this investigation and encouraged students to also report any unusual or inappropriate online behaviour.
“Come forward with your information and tell us if something doesn’t feel right; if you see something online that shouldn’t be online.”
Watch raw: Online posts “inciting violence” have led police to charge two young people with uttering threats.
Edmonton Public Schools said the two students charged have been suspended but not expelled. A spokesperson said expulsion is a long process and the district isn’t “there yet.” And, while the board’s goal is to protect students and schools, it also has a duty to make sure all children get an education.
The schools involved have met with the parents of the accused. All parents with children at the schools have also been informed about what happened.
Chan urged young people to consider the ramifications of their actions: “a criminal charge … having a record and being expelled – how damaging that can be to your future.”
“If you think that it’s a joke or you think it’s a good idea, just let me say now that it isn’t.”
On Wednesday, Harry Ainlay High School was locked down after an online threat was made against an administrative staff member.
Students were linking the lockdown to a bizarre Instagram account on which images of clowns and veiled threats like “you’ll be the first to die” and “killing is an act of mercy” were posted Wednesday. The user of the account goes by the name “The Arbiter” and claims to attend Harry Ainlay.
Police said investigators use resources in their Cyber Crimes Unit to track down the creators of certain profiles. While clowns were used in some capacity – either in the name, hashtag or photo – Chan said that was just “today’s theme.”
“Clowns is irrelevant,” he said. “The message is responsible online use and what you do when you receive those posts … Deleting it is the way to go or reporting it is another option, not joining in or piling in these discussions.”
Students at Harry Ainlay told Global News Wednesday’s lockdown lasted about 90 minutes.
“We just received a call over the PA that there was a lockdown and we had to stay in our rooms for over an hour not knowing what really was going on,” Grade 11 student Tristan Leduc said, adding it was frightening.
“A little bit because you hear about all the different stories from across America.”
Grade 10 student Tyler Blais thinks the threat was related to the Instagram page.
“There was an Instagram page of a clown who said he was going to come to the school and go to the rotunda.”
“After the first page came up, people were making more mockery pages,” added a female student. “As soon as those pages came up, police tracked them down and shut those down.”
Londonderry Junior High School in northeast Edmonton was put on alert for about four hours Thursday. Edmonton Public Schools said students were kept inside during the lunch hour but that the alert was dropped by 1 p.m.
Edmonton Public Schools said police asked the school to go on alert as they investigated an alleged “clowning threat” in the neighbourhood.
Edmonton public stressed an alert is different from a lockdown in that an alert puts the school on a heightened state of awareness, whereas a lockdown requires students to stay in place in their classrooms.
Earlier this week, four people were arrested in Fort McMurray after RCMP investigated a threat made on Instagram involving students.
Wood Buffalo RCMP said a female youth was responsible for sending the threat but charges hadn’t been laid.
With files from Slav Kornik, Global News