CALCUTTA — Inducing panic charges were filed Friday against two Beaver Local students, ages 10 and 11, for posting a threatening video online.
Copies of the charges will be mailed to the parents of two boys telling them when they have to report to Columbiana County Juvenile Court, according to assistant county prosecutor K. Bret Apple. The charges are the juvenile court equivalent of a first-degree misdemeanor, and the youths will not be taken to the county juvenile detention facility because the county has a policy against placing youths there under the age of 12, he said.
The first boy can be seen in the video wearing an antifa-style mask telling a boy — identified only by his first name — “You’re (expletive), you’re dead.”
The second boy then entered the video and says, “And let me just do something,” and grabbed what turned out to be a pellet gun and aimed it at the camera. “If you got a problem with that, I gun you down, (expletive),” he said, to no one in particular.
The second boy concludes by saying “all of you who hate us, (expletive) off.”
The video, which appeared to be filmed at a home, had been posted in early June on a video app popular among the young. It was not brought to the attention of school officials until Aug. 7, and they promptly contacted St. Clair Township police. Police Chief Brian McKenzie said they interviewed the boys in front of their parents, and then met with the Columbiana County Prosecutor’s Office to determine if the action depicted in video warranted charges being filed. They did not hear back until Friday.
School Superintendent Eric Lowe reassured parents they were on top of the situation. “We want people to approach us. We want people to know we are here, because school safety is of the utmost importance. We take all matters seriously that come to us, and that’s why we reached out to the police department,” he said. “We would never do anything that would put our students at risk.”
When word of the video began to spread on social media Thursday night, Lowe became inundated with calls and messages from concerned parents. The school board had a special meeting already scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday to name a new maintenance supervisor and, based on the social media comments, Lowe and the board were bracing for a large crowd. No parents showed up, however.
Beaver Local’s Back to School Bash was held before the meeting, and Lowe said he chatted with parents at the event, including several who were especially vocal on social media. They told him they were satisfied with how the police and school were handling the situation.
Lowe and McKenzie said while it is understandable parents should be concerned, they believe that angst was needlessly fueled by speculation on social media over the previous 24 hours. Both said some people need to pause and reconsider before posting on social media.
“I think in today’s world it’s important to stress responsibility on social media. Even us adults also have to remember that because things said on social media can heighten things to a whole new level,” Lowe said. “I think first and foremost we should expect responsibility and accountability from our children, and we should also expect that from adults.”
McKenzie said he understands why parents were concerned and emphasized that they take every threat seriously, but he said they have to wait for the process to play out. “We’re not ever going to jump to conclusions to make someone happy,” he said. “If we had thought there was an immediate threat we would have acted.”
McKenzie cut short his trip to a school violence seminar and returned for the meeting. He said if people had been more proactive and first reported the video to them in June instead of two months later, the issue would have been resolved then “and we wouldn’t be here talking about this” right before school starts on Monday.
Apple said the growing concern about the video as it spread on social media played a key role in the decision to file charges for inducing panic. “Obviously, parents were concerned, and they have every right to be concerned, but it’s not well founded in the facts,” he said. “It’s a situation where the police had everything under control.”
During Friday night’s meeting, the school board went into closed session with their attorney to discuss the situation now that the youths were charged. Lowe said while deciding what to do, the administration is working with the boys’ parents on a resolution of the matter.
A township police officer is already assigned to the school full-time, and McKenzie said he plans to have his other officers make periodic visits at Beaver Local over the coming weeks until the situation calms down.