Police Investigate Middle School Death Threats

By: Tom Duggan – April 2008

NORTH ANDOVER – Several North Andover Middle School students are being investigated by the North Andover police for personal profiles posted on the America On Line Internet service threatening to harm fellow students and naming at least one teacher and a classmate the student pledges to “kill.” 

These threats were repeatedly posted in on-line chat rooms as well as in the students’ personal profiles available for anyone with the student’s screen name to see.  

 One of the students being investigated by North Andover Police lists a profile saying that his “life goal” is to “kill Mr. (name withheld) and (name withheld)” a fellow student. Mr. (X) is a teacher at the North Andover Middle School. 

According to documents, in one on-line profile a student promises “… and one day im gonna kill somebody so bad there mother will know who it was the second they see there sons skin stapled to a tree and there bones burned in a pit fire I made.”  

Another incident being investigated by the North Andover police involves a chat room conversation where a student asked another if they wanted to have a knife fight after school. In that chat room the boy who threatened the knife fight also said that he often dreamt about killing. 

Members of the North Andover Police would not comment on the record about the particulars of the ongoing investigation, calling it cyber-bullying. 

Documents found in The Valley Patriot mailbox detailed several explicit internet conversations where a middle school boy talks about “rape” and fantasizes about committing violence against his fellow classmates, neighbors and specific students he alleges have treated him badly.

One middle school mother asked The Valley Patriot, “How do we know if these children who make such threats are really serious? How do we know if this is just kids being stupid or if we may have another Columbine on our hands?”

 “The reality is that parents need to be just as involved, if not more so, as they are with any other activities that their children are involved with; just as they would be for after school activities, who their children are making friends with or playing with, etcetera” said North Andover police officer Dan Cronin who investigates cyber bullying and computer crimes. 

“Parents should take an active roll in learning the online identities of their children’s friends and what identities their children are using. If a child is being bullied on the internet, it is no different than if it is happening in the school yard. Any parents that are intimidated by computers or the internet should seek educational instruction or even have their children teach them what the child knows about the computer and Internet,” he said. 

“A child should not have internet access when they are alone. When they do, it should be in a location in the home where their activity can be observed or monitored. There is an abundance of information for parents at http://www.missingkids.com that cover a wide range of safety topics,” he concluded. 

North Andover School Committee member Charles Ormsby said that he had not been informed of these threats against students and teachers at the Middle School, and therefore he would not comment on the specific charges. 

However, when asked his opinion of the appropriate response to such threats and cyber-bullying, he responded, “I don’t think threatening to kill people should be characterized as bullying. Doing so downplays the serious nature of such threats. Threatening someone’s life is extremely serious and we should treat it as such. If a student is guilty of making such threats, both the police and the School Department should impose very tough sanctions so that other students get a clear and unambiguous message: Such behavior will not be tolerated and will be severely punished.”

According to sources at the North Andover Middle School the students being investigated are still attending classes every day. It is not known if the teacher has been notified of the threat and if any steps have been taken to protect the teacher, his family or the threatened student.

Help for Parents

According to the website onlineteendangers.com, author David Kent Jones has created a handbook that parents can download for free, which explains the five greatest internet dangers teenagers face and how to avoid them. The book also provides a checklist for parents to use on internet safety and ways to discuss internet safety with their teens. Simple things, like keeping the computer in a public area and not allowing your teen to use a webcam, can help keep them safe. 
One of the biggest dangers discussed by Jones is online harassment. Jones discusses how some teens have a different personality when on-line. He discusses how a mild mannered teen takes on a bullying personality while chatting on-line and the dangers such a bully poses.   

According to Officer.com, cyber bullying laws were not in effect in Missouri when 13 year old Megan Meier went to myspace.com and developed a relationship with someone named “Josh”. After forming this relationship on line, “Josh” then turned on Megan and began tormenting and insulting Megan, calling her derogatory names, and suggesting that the world would be a better place without her.  Megan, who had emotional issues and suffered from depression, subsequently committed suicide. 

It turned out that “Josh” was not really a teenage boy, but rather, was a local mother who was upset with Megan because she was no longer friends with her daughter.  The woman could not be prosecuted because there were no laws regarding cyber stalking or cyber bullying. After this tragic incident, the local Missouri Alderman passed cyber harassment misdemeanor laws.  Many other states have passed their own cyber harassment and bullying laws, including Massachusetts. MGL Chapter 156, Section 43 is Massachusetts’ criminal harassment statute, which includes cyber activity.     

According to the Essex County District Attorney’s Office, kids can be prosecuted for criminal harassment or even stalking based on these online interactions. Just three incidents targeting an individual and causing that person distress constitutes illegal behavior. If those interactions include attacks on a person’s religious or ethnic background or sexuality, then it can constitute a civil-liberties violation, and a felony offense according to wickedlocal.com 

Here in Massachusetts, there is also the Massachusetts Crimes Against Children Taskforce (ICAC). As stated on the Essex County D.A. website, the Massachusetts State Police is the lead agency for the taskforce in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts ICAC Task Force provides training to law enforcement, investigative support, and internet safety awareness presentations to schools, parents and interested public and private organizations. 

The Massachusetts ICAC Task Force also acts as the contact for the National Center for Missing and exploited Children Cybertip line and provides computer forensic capabilities directed towards crimes against children. More information about ICAC can be found on the Essex County D.A.’s website. 

There are many other websites available to help parents learn about cyber-bullying and cyber-harassment, including wiredsafety.org, stopcyberbullying.org, and netsmartz.org where parents can report cyber-stalking, harassment or bullying.  

North Andover parents can contact Officer Tracy Castiglione, the school resource officer who assists families regarding internet safety.