Two teens arrested for threats leading to high school lockdowns
By Pauline Repard, Karen Kucher and Susan Shroder, special to the Rancho Santa Fe Review
Two teenagers have been arrested as suspects in social media threats posted Nov. 20 in what are believed to be unrelated incidents against two Carmel Valley schools, San Diego police said.
A 16-year-old girl who was taken into custody Friday night, Nov. 21, is suspected in a threat the afternoon of Nov. 20 against Canyon Crest Academy, police Lt. Kevin Mayer said in a statement. She is not a student at the school, he said.
Earlier Friday, police said a 17-year-old was arrested as a suspect in a threat posted Thursday morning on the Yik Yak social media app against Torrey Pines High School. He was taken into custody Thursday. Police said he is not a Torrey Pines student.
The threats are not believed related, Mayer said.
“At this time, the Torrey Pines High School threat and the Canyon Crest Academy threat are separate incidents and do not appear to be connected,” Mayer said.
Both schools are in the San Dieguito Union High School District.
In a news conference held at Torrey Pines High the morning of Nov. 21, San Diego police Capt. Stephanie Rose declined to discuss many details of the investigation.
“We take threats like this very seriously and we utilize all resources to determine who is involved,” she said. “The perceived anonymity of the Internet can cease the moment somebody makes a threat.”
On Nov. 20, a Torrey Pines High student notified his father that a posting on Yik Yak said the poster would shoot everyone at 11:55 a.m.
Torrey Pines Principal David Jaffe, at the Nov. 21 media briefing, said when he learned of the threat around 10:30 a.m. and told police, “We didn’t know whether it was a viable threat.”
Jaffe said the matter will be treated as a crime and any student caught making school threats would face a minimum of suspension.
Yik Yak, an app started in 2013 and available for Apple and Android phones but not the Internet, has a friendly-looking yak as its mascot and lets users share anonymous posts with people within a 1.5-mile radius.
“Social media is not anonymous,” Jaffe told reporters. “If you post something, you will be held accountable.”
The Torrey Pines campus was locked down for three hours.
Minutes after that incident resolved, Canyon Crest Academy was locked down as school was about to be dismissed. A student reported seeing a posted threat that said, “I’m on the way with three guns.”
In both cases, San Diego police and school staff searched classrooms and grounds, finding no threat or weapons.
When asked for comment on the Nov. 20 threats and subsequent school actions, San Dieguito Union High School District Superintendent Rick Schmitt released the following statement:
“I am proud of our students and staff for how they handled all, especially proud of our students who took the threat seriously and did everything we asked of them at both schools. SDPD was incredible in their response, cooperation, communication, teamwork, access to technology and skill. I was also appreciative of parents’ understanding, patience and trust.
“Hopefully, teenagers and their parents realize that anonymous social media posts are not anonymous if you bully or threaten. Law enforcement has the tools, the right and the experience to catch those who make virtual threats.
“And finally, the ‘see something/say something’ approach to potential threats seems to be working. Both students and parents have been reporting potential threats to staff the past couple of years, which is a good thing. The ‘teenage code of silence’ has been replaced with an understanding of how to best keep all safe.”
When asked what students did during the lockdowns, Schmitt replied,
“Depending on the teacher...after they locked down with lockblocks, curtains, blinds etc., each class was handled differently. Some made popcorn, slept, socialized, watched TV, used social media, studied, read, some even continued with class until the end of the period at noon.
“Many students ended up in classes other than their own. If students were out on campus when the lockdown was announced, they ducked into the nearest classroom. When students and staff needed to use the restroom they called the office. We had administrators escort them to the restroom with dozens of police on campus.”
When asked for comment on the events of Nov. 20, Joyce Dalessandro, SDUHSD school board president, issued the following statement:
“Anonymity, invisibility, really doesn’t exist in our world any longer. Certainly it does not exist on social media. Parents and teachers work to instill this truth in our children. The lure of social media is strong, however, and sometimes trumps our best efforts.
“The internet presents a tempting vehicle for some kids to make poor choices. The vast majority of kids would never choose to post anything, anonymous or not, that is intended to hurt, frighten or threaten others. In fact most have learned, when coming across such postings, to share the information with a parent or teacher.
“In the end, we know that law enforcement has the power, authority and the technology to identify the anonymous when they are breaking the law. The response, cooperation, coordination, communication, and technological capabilities of the SDPD to the crisis at Torrey Pines High School and at Canyon Crest Academy continue to be worthy of the highest praise.”
When asked what the charges are against the two teens who have been arrested and what the potential penalties are related to those charges, Steve Walker, communications director for the San Diego County District Attorney, said in an email “As this is a juvenile case (juvenile court works much differently that adult court), it’s confidential and we’re not able to discuss it.”
A hearing held Nov. 25 for the accused teen in the TPHS case was closed, therefore media could not attend the hearing.
Writers Debbi Baker, Marsha Sutton and Joe Tash contributed to this report.