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School threats can have serious legal consequences

School closes for two days after threats against 12-year-old transgender student
Posted at 6:11 AM, Jun 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-01 07:11:14-04

GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — There have been many threats made toward schools across Northeast Wisconsin in the last few weeks.

Schools in Berlin, De Pere and Fond du Lac received threats within the last five days. Kiel Middle School had its fifth bomb threat on Tuesday. Some of the schools had to close due to the threats.

"A threat that is made to a school or individuals in schools is going to be taken very seriously and there are going to be consequences," said Lt. Brad Strouf, Green Bay Police Department investigations division.

Strouf said when people make credible threats toward schools, they are generally criminally charged. In some cases, he said they may even face a felony and prison time.

Green Bay police investigated several school threats last year within the Green Bay Area Public School District. Strouf said in those cases, the people behind the threats were kids.

"When it comes to school threats specifically, it seems to be the school-aged people are doing the targeting," Strouf said. "It's not entirely impossible to have adults that would target a school or people in the school, but in a lot of cases at least, especially on the social media platforms, we're seeing juveniles involved."

In cases where a threat is made over social media, Strouf said police will obtain a warrant to investigate those records. He said police will conduct extensive interviews to find the source of the threat and to determine its validity. From there, Strouf said they'll refer charges to the court accordingly.

Judge John Zakowski, Brown County Circuit Court Branch 6, presided over one of the court cases involving a teenage boy who made a threat over social media toward a school within GBAPS.

"It's a crime. It's serious. It doesn't matter if you're 14 or 15, or if you're 18 or 19," Zakowski said. "But if you're in the juvenile system, the penalties are different. You're treated differently than if you're an adult."

Consequences for juveniles may include help from other programs, community service and county supervision. Still, Zakowski said some kids may be waived into adult court depending on their history and seriousness of the crime.

He said if someone makes a school threat, there are several Wisconsin statutes they can be charged under following the facts of the case. A threat made using a computer to threaten injury is a Class B misdemeanor that carries up to 90 days in jail. If someone is trying to evacuate or shut down a school, intimidate others or aims to scare students, they may face a terrorist threat charge, which is a Class I felony with a maximum 3.5 year prison sentence and 1.5 year initial confinement. A bomb scare is also a Class I felony and carries the same penalties as a terrorist threat charge.

Zakowski said trying cases involving juveniles can be difficult, especially when social media is involved.

"What's frustrating is, is it some immature kid who's kind of a dummy who wants to get a day off of school and wants to be cute? Or is it something much more significant, where somebody is maybe having these thoughts of doing something terrible and maybe has some mental health issues? But in every situation, especially in light of what we're seeing, you have to take every threat seriously," Zakowski said. "It's a serious situation that we're facing and so many schools are being disrupted. But you have to be careful. You have to be vigilant."

Strouf said if people hear or see something of concern, they should report it to a school resource officer, teacher, counselor, school administrator or local police department.