The Maine School Administrative District 54 offices at 196 W. Front St. in Skowhegan are seen in the background Thursday, not far from Skowhegan Area High School. Schools in MSAD 54 were closed Thursday after a photograph was posted to social media showing a young man from the area holding a weapon. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN — Officials said they were being cautious Thursday when they decided to close Skowhegan-area schools after a photograph was posted to social media showing a young man holding a weapon and appearing to threaten people in Skowhegan.

Jon Moody, the superintendent of Maine School Administrative District 54, said he first received reports late Wednesday that there was a “concerning” post on social media that was not directed at schools but featured an image of a person holding what appeared to be a handgun.

Moody said he initially intended to keep schools open Thursday, but in a “lockout situation” in which students would not be allowed outside. Early Thursday, however, police said they had not been able to contact the young man who posted the photograph, so officers advised that the schools be closed “out of an abundance of caution.”

Moody sent an email at about 6 a.m. Thursday notifying parents of the closures. In addition to schools in Skowhegan, MSAD 54 operates schools in Canaan and Norridgewock, and enrolls students from several other towns in Somerset County.

Janathian Viles, 18, told the Morning Sentinel on Thursday he was the one who posted the photograph and the one shown holding the weapon. The image was posted to Snapchat and shows Viles with his face obscured by the weapon. It had a caption that included a variation of a racial slur that read, “Coming for you Skow (N-word).”

Viles said he is a student in the MSAD 54 adult education program. He declined to say where he lives, but said it is about an hour’s drive from Skowhegan.


“People took my post and ran with it,” Viles said. “I was never going to hurt anybody. I wasn’t going to do anything with any gun.”

Viles said he is holding a BB gun in the photograph and the weapon belongs to a friend. He said the post had 13,000 views by Thursday morning.

Chief David Bucknam of the Skowhegan Police Department wrote in a statement posted to the department’s Facebook page that the decision to close schools “was not an easy one but due to recent events we felt it was necessary to keep students, teachers and parents at ease as much as possible.”

It was not clear Thursday if Bucknam’s mention of recent events was citing the social media photograph itself or perhaps the mass shooting Monday at a Christian elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee, that killed six people, including three 9-year-olds and three adults.

Moody said the Nashville killings did not factor into his decision to close the schools, “but the culture today is different than the culture was 10, 20 years ago.”

Moody said the mass shooting in Nashville might have played a role in the Police Department’s recommendation to close schools, and could influence parents’ decisions to send their children to school.


“We think we’ll likely be in school (Friday), but we’ll follow up with people to let them know,” Moody said, “because you don’t want to create fear, unnecessary fear.”

Bucknam later updated his statement on Facebook to say Viles had contacted police and was meeting with detectives. The chief confirmed by text message that Viles is a suspect and under investigation.

Viles, however, said he did not plan to travel to the police station to meet with detectives.

Viles said he was sent to jail in November after being “falsely accused” of discharging a firearm. He said he spent a month at the Somerset County Jail in Madison before officials dropped the charge — criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon — against him.

Viles said Skowhegan police want him to bring the weapon shown in the Snapchat photograph to the police station to prove it is a BB gun. Viles said he believed the police request was a “trap” meant to send him back to jail.

He said he was not aware of the mass shooting in Nashville and insisted his Snapchat photograph was not meant to be threatening.

“I would never harm anybody,” Viles said. “I have a lot of friends that go to (Skowhegan-area schools). I don’t know how people would think I would do such a thing.”

Viles said he visits Skowhegan about once a week, either to see friends or take classes in the adult education program, and posts online to let people know he will be in town.

“I didn’t want to scare people,” Viles said. “Maybe I’ll just stop with social media. Like, if I can’t have the freedom to post whatever I feel like on my story, then I guess I shouldn’t be posting at all.”

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