WASHINGTON — A group of Fauquier County teens who made online threats against a classmate and falsely claimed that their classmate was planning a school shooting will not face criminal charges but may be required to go through court-monitored mediation process.
County officials planned to hold a town hall to discuss the threats and the decision not to prosecute Monday night at Liberty High School in Bealeton.
“We would have liked to have placed criminal charges,” said Sgt. James Hartman, spokesman for the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office. “Times are changing with social media, so we probably need to update our laws to include these kinds of statements.”
On Oct. 2, an administrator at Liberty High School notified the sheriff’s office of an online discussion involving six students, ages 16 and 17, that focused on another Liberty student.
The name of the chat was “operation-will-to-kill,” and took place in a chat app called Discord, according to a joint statement from the sheriff’s office and the county school system.
The conversation included references to killing, bodily harm and a school-shooter list. The teens made comments that the verbal target of the discussion “has a month to live and everytime he does something that (expletive) us off we take a day off.”
The boy who was the focus of the violent discussion was not involved in the chat, and only heard about it when one of the participants sent him screenshots of the chat as a heads-up about what was being said.
The teens and the boy who was the target of their discussion were each interviewed as part of a joint investigation by the sheriff’s office, commonwealth’s attorney’s office, and the school system.
While calling the statements posted to the chat thread disturbing and objectionable, authorities determined they weren’t illegal.
“After extensive review and consideration of all the evidence in this matter, there is insufficient evidence to prove any of the elements of a crime under the Code of Virginia,” the officials said. “There are very few statutes that criminalize speech, either oral or written.”
The law criminalizing threats of death or bodily injury does not require the threats be communicated directly to the intended recipient.
“However, the law does require proof that the accused intended to make and communicate the threat and that the threat was made and communicated,” according to authorities.
The participants believed the student who was the focus of the chat may “shoot up the school,” or may have a “school shooter list.”
“All of the participants admitted that these statements were false and no evidence of such a plan or list was found,” read the statement.
While no criminal charges will be filed, “The Sheriff’s Office is in consultation with the Juvenile Court Services Unit to explore other avenues, such as the Restorative Justice Program,” which brings an alleged offender and victim together through a mediation process.
Sheriff Bob Mosier will hold the town hall meeting at 6 p.m.
Commonwealth’s Attorney James Fisher did not immediately return a request for comment from WTOP.