What to Know
- Data shows a sharp increase in the number of teens arrested for making terroristic threats since the Parkland school shooting
- It’s not clear if the spike in terroristic threat arrests is due to copycat behavior or more vigilant threat reporting from the public
- Some officials say the spike in school threats is evidence more school districts need to consider hardening school targets
In the weeks immediately after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, teenagers in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut made a flurry of violent threats, according to law enforcement statistics tallied by the I-Team.
Data from Albany, Trenton, and Hartford all show a sharp rise in the number of teens arrested for making terroristic threats.
In the two months after 14 students and three staff members were gunned down in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, 46 teenagers were arrested for making terroristic threats in New Jersey. That marks a 30 percent increase compared with the same time period in 2017.
In Connecticut, 29 teenagers were arrested for making violent threats – an 80 percent increase over the same time period last year.
In New York, there were 48 teens arrested for making terroristic threats – more than a 1,000 percent increase over 2017.
"For prosecutors, we become alarmed because we know that Parkland can happen anywhere," said Robert Laurino, the acting prosecutor in Essex County, New Jersey.
It’s not clear if the spike in terroristic threat arrests is due to copycat behavior or more vigilant threat reporting from the public.
Madeline Singas, the district attorney in Nassau County, says the increase in violent threats should be a reminder that the flow of information to law enforcement is critical.
"There was a time that, between 9 and 3, we could rest assured that our kids were safe in school. That's not our reality anymore," Singas said.
Earlier this year, Singas organized a task force of school officials, psychologists, students, and privacy experts to talk about clearing paths of communication so that all threats make their way to law enforcement. She said many educators have been under the false impression that teachers and counselors should keep some threats of violence confidential because of student privacy laws.
“If someone is deemed a threat, they can get that information out and not run afoul of the law,” Singas said.
Andrew Goldman and Brooke Matalon, both seniors at Syosset High School, were a part of the task force. They said the spike in teenage threats of violence is proof gun laws need to be strengthened in the wake of Parkland.
“We are coming to school to feel safe and we are coming to school to grow as individuals, and we can’t do that if there is a constant threat that there could be an active shooter coming in at any time,” Matalon said.
“Not just students, but teachers alike have to come in, in fear of their lives,” Goldman said. “That simple fact alone should be startling.”
For Joseph Coronato, the Ocean County, New Jersey prosecutor, the spike in school threats is evidence more school districts need to consider hardening school targets.
“Now that we have Parkland and some of the other school incidents taking place, it only heightens the plan,” Coronato said.
Last year, Coronato purchased military-grade mapping software, known as GXP to help first responders navigate the hallways, classrooms, and cafeterias of unfamiliar schools so they can more quickly neutralize an active shooter.
“If there’s a state trooper now entering the school,” Coronato said, “they will be able to communicate using this app.”
Still another prosecutor, Westchester County District Attorney Anthony Scarpino, said the sudden rise in teen terroristic threats is evidence lawmakers need to pass a bill that allows for extreme risk protection orders. They are court orders that permit police to remove lawfully-owned weapons from the homes where disturbed adolescents live.
"People go through crises that can pass, but if they have access to weapons, there could be tremendous damage," Scarpino said.
Just last year, police agencies in Connecticut used 173 extreme risk protection orders to temporarily remove weapons. The legislatures in New York and New Jersey are currently considering similar laws.