Frederick Co. middle school students face hate crime charges for online threats

Three Frederick County, Maryland, middle schoolers have been charged with a racial hate crime in connection with social media posts threatening violence against Black students.

The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday that the charges stemmed from an investigation into a series of Instagram and Snapchat posts made early Wednesday making threats against Middletown Middle School students of color. The posts included racist slurs and depicted what appeared to be firearms.

“We placed enough deputies and resources into this investigation that we were able to identify those responsible, and the ones that posted the threats, and bring the situation to closure by arrest,” Frederick County Sheriff Charles A. Jenkins said at a news briefing.

“We can’t, and we won’t, tolerate these types of threats or messages that disrupt or create fear in our communities. Let me be very clear, the students responsible are going to face some serious consequences.”

All three students have been charged with violating a Maryland hate crime statute outlawing harassment or assault targeting individuals or groups based on their race, gender, faith or other personal identities.

One student was also charged with unlawful possession of a handgun under 21 years of age. At least two other weapons in the photos were determined to be fake: One, Jenkins said, was a BB gun, while the second may have been an airsoft gun.

Lt. Jason Deater, school resource officer commander for the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, said the students’ parents are cooperating with law enforcement and that all weapons depicted in the photos have been accounted for following a search of their bedrooms.

The students’ names have not been made public; state law withholds the identities of minors who have been charged as juveniles. In an effort to calm anxiety in the community, Jenkins asked parents and students to refrain from sharing information about persons involved in the case.

School officials said additional disciplinary action from Frederick County Public Schools against the three students would be forthcoming.

“They caused our students, staff and the families of our students to feel unsafe, and it is unacceptable,” said Eric Louers-Phillips, executive director of public affairs for Frederick County Public Schools. “The Middletown Middle School students identified in the posts are not allowed on school property or school premises at this time.”

Deater and Jenkins said the Sheriff’s Office continues to make the investigation a priority. Students voluntarily handed their phones to law enforcement at the request of deputies, and a forensic analysis is underway on their contents.

In a letter to the community sent Thursday evening, Interim Superintendent Mike Markoe said the behavior displayed by the students is “not representative of the community that we aspire to be and become.”

“Once again, I am sincerely asking all of our community members for their help,” Markoe said. “Please speak to students about the importance of the appropriate use of social media and the significant implications of threats of any kind. We take them all extremely seriously.”

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Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

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