Social Media Causes Panic At A Fresno High School
FRESNO, Calif. (KMPH) —
Fresno Police say social media is to blame for Bullard High School having to send students home on Thursday. The bomb and shooting threats made against the school were not credible, but they were fueled by twitter and media reports that sent parents and students into panic mode.
Police say the entire thing was documented on the social media site, Instagram. Investigators say they traced an account to two brothers, who were arrested today. Officers say they believe they were behind one of the threats made against Bullard High School.
Fresno Police say it all started back in July, when 3 people, who call themselves the "Merry Men", vandalized a Mormon Church. A few weeks later, officers say the "Merry Men" spray painted a black skull and an anti-establishment phrase on a Catholic Church. According to investigators, the pictures were posted on Instagram.
This week Bullard High was vandalized and detectives say 'The Merry Men" on Instagram took credit. Fresno Unified superintendent says that sent social media into a tailspin. Then on Wednesday evening a copycat tweeted out a shooting threat that sent students and parents into hysteria.
"It is a colossal waste of time for everyone in the community. There were about 800 kids who didn't show up today, we had distracted students and youth all over," says Fresno Unified Superintendent Mike Hanson.
As school officials dealt with that mess, another threat came in Thursday afternoon.
"The principal received an email from "The Merry Men" and it was a bomb threat for the campus, stating that it would go off today," says Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer.
Investigators say they knew that threat was also not credible. However, they still made sure the school was safe and then decided to send students home for the day.
"We think it was the right decision, so we could have our whole community calm down," adds Superintendent Hanson, "It let our parents and our students refocus."
The FBI got involved and helped Fresno Police find "The Merry Men" using social media. Investigators traced them to a home and arrested 18 year-old Aaron Nevarez and his 17 year-old brother. Officers say they found guns and weapons they believe belong to the 18 year-old, as well as writings that match the anti-establishment sayings at the churches and school.
"For our youth who watch this, there are some students, some young men, whose lives are going to be very different for the rest of their lives because they penned a couple of emails and they got involved in social media that they thought was cute or funny," says Superintendent Hanson.
KMPH Fox 26 News did speak with a crime expert, he says that one of the reasons social media can be bad is because there's no way to control the message on it. Dr. Erik Hickey says people get information and they over exaggerate, which leads to rumors and hysteria. He also says that when the media reports threats that aren't credible, which KMPH Fox 26 News did not do, that can fan the flames and cause people to panic.
Police say Nevarez is facing several felony charges and if convicted he could spend several years in prison.