How Fairfax Co. police deal with school shooting threats

WASHINGTON — In the wake of the shooting at a Florida high school, schools across the D.C. area are now seeing a spike in shooting threats, leaving local authorities busy with investigations.

Maj. Paul Cleveland with the Fairfax County police in Fairfax County, Virginia, said it takes a lot of work.

These threats are often found online, and sometimes, they’re easy to track. But other times, police have little to go off besides a screenshot of the threat making rounds on social media platforms.

“We’ve got to track down possible IP addresses, where it came from,” Cleveland said.

He added that the work that goes into tracking the threats accounts for many “man hours.”

“Trying to track down anonymous threats through the computer, the cyber area, it takes a lot of time to figure out,” he said.

Many people, such as investigators and school officials, get involved before the inevitable confrontation with the suspect.

“Unfortunately, kids do dumb things,” said Cleveland. “They may be angry about something … so they’re going to make a bold statement. They’re going to make a rash statement. Many of the cases that we’ve seen, we’ll investigate it through, the kid will say something and didn’t realize the ramifications for it.”

In some cases, the threat is serious enough that charges are filed against the suspect. Other times, a child might be steered into diversionary programs or other forms of help.

But sometimes, it’s just a kid who thinks they’re being funny.

“We have to treat everything as if it’s possible for them to do it, and then we’ll downgrade it as we go through it,” said Cleveland. “A couple of the recent cases we’ve had … the kids were just [saying], ‘I’m joking around, I didn’t mean to do it.’ We do want to let them know that even if you’re just joking around, obviously that’s not acceptable.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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