JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With five false bomb threats made against Northeast Florida schools over two days, three Wednesday on Wednesday alone, school and law enforcement officials are asking parents for help.
Thorough searches turned up nothing suspicious Wednesday at Andrew Jackson High School, First Coast High School or Westside High School, officials said. First Coast and Westside were each placed on code yellow lockdown for about an hour. Jackson High was evacuated before the school was cleared by police.
Threats were also made Tuesday against Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology and Orange Park High School. The emailed threat against Orange Park High prompted officials to close the school for the day. Classes resumed Wednesday.
On top of the three calls at schools Wednesday, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office responded to another bomb threat at a local business. Nothing suspicious was found at the Fanatics Customer Care Center on the Southside, police said.
Wednesday afternoon, Clay County School Superintendent Charlie Van Zant and representatives from the Sheriff's Office and Orange Park and Green Cove Springs police called on students and parents to discourage their friends and children from making bad decisions on social media that will have severe consequences.
Van Zant said the vast majority of the district’s 36,000 students are making the most of their educational opportunities, but it remains a “stumbling block” for a few. He says when “an angry young person” puts a threat out on social media, it breaks both school board rules or state laws and it will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law. That could mean suspension, expulsion and criminal prosecution.
Van Zant called on parents to “police up” their kids. He acknowledges it’s tough for parents to stay ahead of the digital power curve, but it’s not spying on children to pay attention to what they do on social media.
"It's 2015, it's not 1985," Van Zant said. "It's a different world. Day in, day out, our students have a multitude of devices and social networks that they can log into."
Clay County deputies are still investigating, but they say the price tag for Tuesday's school sweep of Orange Park High has reached well into the thousands of dollars. They said it was the seventh social media threat they've dealt with this school year.
Jacksonville officers said the high number of hoax threats they've been responding to recently are a big drain on resources.
“It wastes our manpower to constantly be going out to false calls, but then we have to check every call because of the off-chance that it is an actual threat,” Sgt. James Cannon said. “We want to make sure everyone is safe."
Hundreds of people were seen standing across the street from the Fanatics building on Southpoint Parkway after a bomb threat was called in about 9 a.m. while the employees were working.
A sweep of the building took about an hour, but some investigations take longer, police said.
In these situations, JSO has to utilize its officers for traffic control and call in several bomb-sniffing dogs with additional officers to search the building and surrounding areas. That's a lot of resources and tax dollars that could be used for other investigations, police said.
Fake or not, police said they must take every threat seriously.
"We thoroughly check every call because we have to treat every call as if it is a real threat," Cannon said.
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said the consequences for making a threat could result in hefty fines and even jail time.
"If they're located, they'll determine what types of charges -- if they had the means of carrying it out and what their intent was -- so a lot goes into the investigation before the charges are filed,” Smith said. “But it is a second-degree felony to make a threat."
Parent Brandye Mackey said she has taken law enforcement's message to heart. Her oldest son uses social media and regularly surfs the Internet. She says she has constantly monitored his online activities for years because she's originally from Colorado and remembers first-hand the shootings in Aurora and at Columbine High School.
Parent Brandye Mackey said he has taken law enforcement's message to heart. Her oldest son uses social media and regularly surfs online. She constantly monitors what he's doing of false threats and has for years since she's originally from Colorado and remembers the shootings in Aurora and at Columbine High School very well.
"When I see things like that, it does touch home a little bit more for me," MacKey said. "I've experienced it. I've seen it firsthand. I've had friends that (were) personally affected by it."