A 15-year-old South Portland High School student was arrested Thursday morning on his way to school and charged with terrorizing after posting a message on social media about “shooting up the school,” police and school officials said.

Other students saw the message when it was posted Wednesday night on Snapchat and alerted authorities, police said. Additional police officers were sent to the school Thursday morning to provide security before the suspected student was taken into custody.

The student, a freshman whom police declined to identify because of his age, was arrested in the parking lot of the South Portland Community Center, next to the high school. The student was charged with terrorizing and carrying a concealed weapon. He had a knife, but no firearms were found, police said.

There was no imminent threat to the school, school officials said. Police had no prior contact with the student and said he appeared to have retracted his threat via social media after it was posted.

“Other students who saw this did the right thing – if you see something then say something – and the student involved was apprehended this morning before entering school,” Superintendent Ken Kunin wrote in an email to school families.

As school let out Thursday afternoon, students and parents expressed relief, sadness, confusion and anger over the incident. Many were unnerved because it happened on the heels of Wednesday’s shooting of 17 students at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Robin Davis got out of her car and embraced her daughter, Caroline, when she picked her up at the main entrance to South Portland High School.

“I just needed to see my girl,” Davis said. “I was out of town today for work and I didn’t know what happened until she texted me at noon. I think we’re still really shocked, especially after what happened yesterday in Florida.”

Caroline Davis, a sophomore, said she was scared, sad and mad that a fellow student had taken away the sense of security she once felt at school. It made no difference to her that the boy later posted a message that he was “just kidding,” she said.

“Mostly I’m mad,” she decided. “I don’t know what goes through a kid’s head when he threatens his classmates like that. Even if he meant it as a joke. It’s not funny.”

CONFUSING RUMORS, HEIGHTENED CONCERN

The South Portland incident was the third known threat made by Maine students this week, police said.

A boy at Cony High School in Augusta was issued a summons for terrorizing on Tuesday after faculty learned of an alleged threat involving a firearm. On the same day, a boy at Caribou Middle School was charged with terrorizing after a written bomb threat was found in a bathroom. Both students were released to their parents.

South Portland High School students said Thursday began amid confusing rumors about what had happened and heightened concern because of the increased police presence.

“We walked into school and there were a bunch of cops and two National Guardsmen in the lobby,” said Brady Doucette, a freshman who said he knew the student who was arrested but not well.

Later Thursday morning, the superintendent sent his email to the school community and teachers explained to students what had happened.

“Once everyone found out what happened, the tension left. Some kids made jokes about it,” Doucette said. “The kid who did it intended it to be a joke, but it turned into something else. It’s nothing to joke about after what happened yesterday in Florida.”

Doucette’s mother said she and a friend discussed the Florida shooting moments before she learned about the incident at South Portland High School.

“It’s crazy,” Jamie Doucette said. “We were just talking about how it could happen anywhere and then this happens.”

Doucette recalled the 1999 shooting in Columbine, Colorado, that killed 12 high school students and one teacher, and she alluded to the many school shootings that have occurred across the United States since then, including several already this year.

“Ever since Columbine, it’s a trend we seem to accept,” Doucette said. “It’s sad and it’s scary.”

POLICE AND SCHOOL COOPERATE

Several students noted how well South Portland police and school officials handled the situation, maintaining security at the high school and keeping students calm. The school was never shut down and classes were not interrupted.

“I feel it was handled really well, in a really chill way,” said Hannah Hutchins, a senior. Her friend Amelia Scofield, also a senior, agreed.

“I definitely felt they knew what to do because police were here early,” Scofield said. “The scary part was that it happened the day after the shooting in Florida. If it had happened any other day, I would have thought it wasn’t serious.”

“But it showed that it could happen here so easily,” Hutchins said.

Lt. Frank Clark said the police department will continue to work closely with the school department to ensure students are safe.

“I would like to particularly highlight and applaud those students who came forward and did the right thing by reporting these concerning posts,” Clark said. “We would also encourage parents and family members to monitor the social media accounts of their own children and their friends.”

Kunin said he could not release any additional information about the student, including his grade level or whether he had been disciplined in the past, because of federal law. He said the administration investigates every threat, no matter the disciplinary record of the student involved.

The case will be referred to the Maine Juvenile Community Corrections Office for resolution.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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