By Bob Uphues
An 18-year-old Riverside-Brookfield High School student has been charged with making threats against the school and school officials following an eight-month investigation in which local police were assisted by the FBI.
Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said the teen's name is being withheld because most of the alleged offenses were committed when he was a juvenile. The North Riverside resident has been charged as both a juvenile and an adult, and is scheduled to appear today at the bond hearing at the Maybrook courthouse.
According to a press release issued by Riverside police on Dec. 5, the student faces one felony charge of disorderly conduct as an adult. Juvenile charges include felony disorderly conduct (bomb threat), cyberstalking and harassment through electronic communication.
Weitzel said that in at least seven instances over eight months, the student sent threatening emails or text messages, apparently through social media, to specific school officials, some of which referenced bombing or shooting.
There's no indication the student ever intended to carry out any threat, Weitzel said, adding that he had no access to weapons or explosives. The threats, however, alarmed school officials because they were directed specifically "toward school staff and the school itself. Plus they were repeated," Weitzel said.
District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis on Dec. 5 emailed parents of RBHS students, addressing the matter.
"While social media can serve as a great communication tool to bring people together, it can also be used inappropriately with serious consequences," Skinkis wrote in his email to parents. "Safety and security for the learning environment is our top priority, and we will continue to investigate and pursue criminal charges for any individual who poses a direct threat to the high school, its students or the staff."
While Skinkis declined to further elaborate on the situation, he did confirm to the Landmark that the school board will initiate disciplinary action against the student in the future.
Weitzel said that local police, accompanied by the FBI, took the student into custody at RBHS on Dec. 3. He added that in addition to using the FBI's expertise in obtaining electronic information that ultimately led to identifying a suspect, local police worked in collaboration with the school's resource officer, Lane Niemann, the school's information technology department and other staff.
In all, Weitzel said his detectives spent more than 300 hours investigating the threats during the past eight months, and that Riverside police requested the FBI's involvement after the third such incident. Weitzel said no federal charges will be filed against the student.
Per Riverside's parental responsibility ordinance, the police department will attempt to recoup overtime costs related to the investigation, according to the Dec. 5 police press release.
It took so long to identify a suspect, said Weitzel, because the student's knowledge of computer systems was "vast." The student reportedly told investigators that "he sent the threats because he was 'bored.'"