When Nikolas Cruz allegedly opened fire in a Parkland, Fla., school on Feb. 14, killing 17 people and wounding another 15, the nation was knocked back in a tidal wave of shock, rage and sorrow.
In the wake of that wave, however, came a near-constant flow of copycat threats, pranks, posts and calls facing school districts all over the country.
In Miami alone, school threats went from about one a week to as many as 50 a day - all of which had to be investigated. A New York Times report described a current feeling among communities and law enforcement as “navigating a fine, sometimes blurred, line between vigilance and overreaction.”
Now police are getting fed up with the endless flow of non-credible joke and prank calls - and are beginning to think of ways to cut them down.
Sheriff Michael Chitwood of Volusia County, Fla., said he had one idea to get kids to stop calling in fake threats: Fine them and their parents to cover the costly police response.
The sheriff estimated the cost of that fine to be more than $1,000, and could actually be much higher “depending on the resources required in each individual case.”
In Volusia County, at least 15 students were charged for making threats, jokes or gun comments since the Parkland shooting, reported the Miami Herald.
“I'm imploring parents. If you tell your kids to knock it off, they'll knock it off. If you put the law down at home, then I don't have to raise your kid, you don't have to worry about being fined,” Chitwood told WFTV.
“Unfortunately that word didn't get to the students and we started seeing more students making threats in the classroom, and that was frightening to their classmates,” a spokeswoman for the district told ABC News. “Most of the time these students didn't have access to weapons, but they were still making threats to shoot up their schools.”
A sheriff in Springfield, Ga., has a different idea: Petitioning the school board to add an extra day to the school year for each one disrupted by a threat.
County schools had reportedly received six threats within two days, four of which were unsubstantiated and another two which resulted in juvenile arrests (including one on a school bus).
“The copycats are in full force,” the sheriff’s office wrote. “Investigators are actively and diligently working to identify the people making these threats. WHEN they are identified, they will be arrested and charged.”
That’s pretty standard - but then the office added something extra.
“Sheriff McDuffie is going to petition the school board to add a day on the end of the school year for every day disrupted by these threats.”
The idea was not popular with parents, many of whom said it was effectively punishing students who did nothing wrong for the actions of one or two others.
“So the students who did nothing wrong and the teachers have to work more because of the criminal activity of others....no thanks,” said one commenter on Facebook.
“I appreciate everything you do for our kids but this isn’t right,” another said. “My daughter won’t be going extra days because of other kids’ actions.”
Still, a few seemed to like the suggestion.
“I think it’s a good idea. I think more kids will tell on others because they will not want an extra day of school. It’s not fun getting in trouble for others’ stupidity,” one commenter said. “It’s just like being at home with multiple siblings, either one comes clean or they all get punished.”
In another approach, Louisiana state police are asking people to do something on their own to cut back on non-credible threats: Just stop sharing them on Facebook, and let police know first instead.
“Although we highly encourage citizens to report suspicious activity, we want to remind them that the increased sharing of unsubstantiated threats through social media stresses the resources available to respond to and investigate these claims,” police wrote.
“The sharing of unsubstantiated threats through social media could add chaos and panic to our school systems and further burden the facility, staff, and student body.”
If it looks credible, and you see it firsthand, police say to pick up the phone and call 911 immediately - but stay away from that share button until a real threat is confirmed.