CENTREVILLE — Queen Anne’s County students arrived at schools to an increased police presence Thursday morning, Oct. 17, after a threat on SnapChat was reported Wednesday evening.
By lunchtime Thursday, the Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Office had identified a male student at Queen Anne’s County High School as the suspect, and when questioned, he confessed, police said.
Lt. Mark Meil of the sheriff’s office led the investigation and praised all those involved.
“I’m very proud of the relationships our department has with the board of education and all the staff and allied law enforcement agencies — Centreville Police Department, Maryland State Police, Maryland Natural Resources Police and Maryland Transportation Authority Police — all who assisted us without hesitation and increased our our presence at schools today,” Meil said in an interview Thursday evening. “Sid Pinder, Dr. (Andrea) Kane and her entire staff — it would not have been possible to come to the conclusion so quickly without their assistance.”
The investigation began Wednesday when Cpl. George Sewell, school resource officer at QACHS, was told of a possible threat. QACHS Principal Amy Hudock notified families in a letter Wednesday evening about a statement posted on SnapChat that indicated there could be a “school shooting on Monday at QA.”
"Although the main statement does not specifically identify Queen Anne’s County High School, we immediately contacted the Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Office, who has started an investigation," Hudock wrote.
High school students reported they befriended an unknown individual, known only by his screen name “ZIGGLY WIGGLY,” on a SnapChat group conversation; at some point during the SnapChat conversation, this person appears to have become agitated with the students and made threats against a particular student, police said. This information was shared with other students, and the story spread throughout the student body through social media and text messages.
Deputies interviewed a large number of students and parents, all who thought the person allegedly was coming to the Queen Anne's County High School on Monday to “shoot up the school,” police said.
“On the original message, there was no specific threat to Queen Anne’s County schools,” Meil said. “That was added as the story spread on social media. It was purely speculation by the public.”
A social media search by a student identified the suspect as someone from Baltimore City, police said. This student posted the suspect’s description and the indicated threat on SnapChat, and that post was shared among the student body and the general public, police said.
“Initially, it appeared that a person outside of our school district had a disagreement with a QACPS student and made a threat about a school shooting at Queen Anne’s County High School (QACHS) on Monday,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Andrea Kane said in a letter to families Thursday night.
Det. Jason Rickard with the sheriff’s Criminal Investigation Unit and Deputy Joe Saboury, chief management analyst at the sheriff’s office, worked with school resource officers Sewell and Dfc. George Parker to help track down the identity of the suspect. They determined the name on the SnapChat profile and the name on the original threatening post were different. Their investigation identified the student at QACHS as the suspect, police said.
At 11:40 a.m. Thursday, deputies and school officials questioned the teen, who admitted creating a fake SnapChat profile and posting the messages in question, including the threatening message, police said. The Baltimore resident was never involved.
“The student portrayed himself as that guy and posted the messages on social media,” Meil said.
While there was never a gun mentioned and no specific threat, there was the suggestion of violence, the resulting hysteria and the original incident occurred in school with a specific group of kids, police said.
“On high-profile cases, we always confer with the state’s attorney for the proper charge,” Meil said.
After consulting with Queen Anne’s County State’s Attorney Lance Richardson, the student will be referred to the Department of Juvenile Services on the charge of “disruption of school activities,” police said.
"Thankfully, the Sheriff’s office has confirmed that there is no threat to students as a result of this event," Kane wrote.
While many teens believe the messages and photos they post on SnapChat vanish in a matter of seconds, Meil said, “Anything you post online never goes away; it’s on a server somewhere.”
Kane urged parents and caregivers to monitor student social media accounts and usage.
"Parents and caregivers should speak with students about the appropriate use of social media and what to do if they receive or read threatening messages. Students should also be reminded to refrain from commenting on social media posts that are intended to spread fear," Kane said.
The Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Office received lots of calls from parents and students concerning the post, and they were very helpful, police said.
"The good news is that parents and students are talking and reporting what they know," Kane wrote.
“This is a prime example of how important it is to report if you see something suspicious,” Meil said. “If you see something, say something.”
He concluded, “Our department takes the safety of students, faculty and staff and the citizens of Queen Anne’s County very seriously, and we will investigate all complaints to the fullest extent.”
Sheriff Gary Hofmann said in a statement: "The safety and security of our schools, to include students, staff and visitors remains a top priority for all of us. Those responsible for initiating threats to the safety of citizens at our schools will be held accountable."
The quick resolution of this investigation could not have been possible without the outstanding cooperation and partnerships we have developed, the sheriff’s office said.
"We are grateful for the quick action and partnerships that QACPS has with the Sheriff’s Office and all of our law enforcement partners. Our School Resource Officers are top notch and worked closely with school administrators and central office staff to resolve this case and ensure the safety of our students, staff and visitors," Kane said in her letter.