TAMPA, Fla. — The new school year is just getting underway, but there have already been several reports of students making threats on social media.
Just this week at least two students in the Tampa Bay area were arrested for making written threats.
- 12-year-old girl arrested for threatening mass shooting at a Hillsborough middle school on SnapChat
- Florida high school student arrested after posting shooting threat on video game chat
- At least 28 people have been arrested over threats to commit mass attacks since the El Paso and Dayton shootings
Dr. Kathleen Heide works at USF’s Department of Criminology. She’s made studying juvenile homicide offenders her life’s work.
“In some respects the children don’t realize the severity of what they are doing,” she said.
But, Heide says even if threats of violence are coming from young children they need to be taken seriously.
She cites the example of the ’98 school shooting in Arkansas which was done by boys who were 13 and 11.
They killed four students and a teacher.
“There are some children who are seriously disturbed who, as much as we find it hard to believe, could act on threats like that.”
Heide says the days of making jokes about something as serious as a school shooting are over.
However, because children are still undergoing brain development, she says they can be more impulsive than adults.
“When they are in a certain mind state it’s hard for them, much more than an adult, to stop, think and deliberate and change their course of action.”
The professor says their are signs parents can look for like depression or if children are isolating themselves excessively playing violent video games, while excluding other social behaviors.
“Some are just indicating it’s a cry for help. They are very unhappy. They are angry. And they are signaling that.”
Heide says parents need to talk with their children before something happens where there is no turning back.
School threats, no matter how harmless the intent, can carry a felony charge.