A 17-year-old student at Cape Elizabeth High School was charged with misdemeanor terrorizing Monday after he posted a message on social media that was interpreted as a threat involving a gun.

The teen, whose name was not released because he is a juvenile and is facing a misdemeanor charge, was taken into custody at a home on Minott Street in South Portland where he had been staying with friends, Police Chief Neil Williams said.

Cape Elizabeth schools were closed Monday but are set to reopen Tuesday. It was at least the seventh school security threat in Maine in the past two weeks, and occurred as schools are on high alert nationwide because of the mass shooting that killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14.

Williams declined to release the text of the alleged threat, although school officials said it included expressions of anger and images of guns.

“It was general in nature, but it was such that you could construe it to think firearms,” Williams said. “It’s very difficult to describe it.”

The teenager was released to a parent who lives outside Cape Elizabeth, according to a Facebook post by Principal Jeffrey Shedd. He will not be allowed to return to school when it reopens Tuesday, Shedd said.

Williams said there is no indication the teenager owns guns, and no one else appeared to be connected to the alleged threat, Williams said.

The investigation began Sunday evening after other students tipped Shedd off about the posting.

“Although there was no direct threat to the school community or any individuals or groups within the school in the social media postings, there were images of firearms and generalized expressions of anger,” the principal wrote in the Facebook post Monday afternoon. “School officials immediately contacted police and were able to get those social media postings to police.”

By 6 a.m., the SWAT team had converged on the home where the teenager was staying, Williams said. He was taken into custody soon after, but officials already had announced that schools would be closed out of an “abundance of caution.”

School staff members will be prepared to talk with any students who need support on Tuesday, Shedd wrote. The staff also will be watching out to make sure the student does not come onto school grounds, “which we believe is extremely unlikely,” he wrote.

The tip about a possible threat came hours after Cape Elizabeth Superintendent Howard Colter sent an email message to the school community Sunday afternoon about school security in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The memo invited community members to a school board meeting scheduled for March 6 to discuss the district’s security efforts. Colter’s memo also reminded students and parents to be vigilant.

“There is a popular phrase being used, ‘If you see something, say something.’ This is more important than ever. Studies on school shootings have shown that perpetrators almost always drop hints of violent intentions … ” he wrote. “Thankfully, there are many more false alarms out there than true threats. However, each ‘false alarm’ needs to be taken seriously as they can often serve as indicators that a student is in real need of support and/or intervention.”

Colter’s letter also pointed out that school shootings have two common characteristics: They are carried out by “angry and troubled young men” and they involve “military-style semiautomatic weapons.”

He asked that the community identify and support young people who might fall through the cracks, and asked that residents “please consider disposing of” unwanted guns by giving them to the police department.

The incident in Cape Elizabeth Monday is the latest in a string of school security threats in Maine in the past two weeks.

A South Portland High School student was arrested and charged with terrorizing Feb. 15 – the day after the Parkland massacre – for allegedly posting a message on social media about “shooting up the school.” Earlier in that week – before Parkland – boys were charged with terrorizing after similar incidents in Augusta and Caribou.

Schools in Topsham were closed Feb. 16 because of what police called “an abundance of caution” about a perceived threat.

A student at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle was charged with terrorizing Feb. 20 after allegedly making threatening comments in that school.

And on Feb. 22, a 19-year-old Ellsworth High School student was charged with terrorizing after allegedly posting an online message saying he could kill as many as 30 people and become “the most notorious.”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

 

filed under: