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San Diego County Sees Increased Number Of School Shooting Threats After Parkland

March 19, 2018 1:36 p.m.

San Diego County Sees Increased Number Of School Shooting Threats After Parkland


Summer Stephan, interim San Diego County District Attorney

Related Story: San Diego County Sees Increased Number Of School Shooting Threats After Parkland


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

>>> As the nation tries to comes to grips with the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland Florida a little more than a month ago, San Diego authorities are investigating a rash of school threats. Threats of violence and shootings that schools have turned up across the county spooking school officials, parents, students. Many other recent threats might at one time have been dismissed as pranks. That is not the attitude of law enforcement anymore. Joining me to talk about how school threats are handled, is interim San Diego County district Attorney Sommer Stefan. The Stefan was appointed to the position after -- retired. She is running for district attorney this year. Sommer Stefan, Rocco to the program. I mentioned an increase in threats to San Diego schools since the Parkland school shooting. How many are we talking about? I have seen several different numbers and media reports.
>> We have looked at 19 incidents of threats to schools. Every single situation is something that we get involved with. After 2014 we set up a system where all of the different schools and police departments provide our specialized team with that information.

>>> How many cases have there been child -- charges filed?
>> We have nine cases in which charges are filed. This conduct is making a school threat is very serious. It causes domestic terror. It causes so much beer. It shuts down the education system. We take it very seriously. Kids sometimes think it is a joke. They still know it will scare someone. That is all the law requires. The law requires that you intend to frighten someone a and that that person reasonably was frightened by it. Who would not be these days?

>>> To be clear, there have been no incidents of violence because of these threats.
>> We have not had incidents of violence. While that is usually the case, and since 2014, we have investigated 45 cases other than since February 14, you can see how there is such a mass number in a short amount of time. We would say that in about two of those incidents, it looked like it went beyond words into preparation, and planning. We felt strongly that our intervention and disruption might have saved lives.

>>> Can you give us some examples as to how these threats are being made?
>> Social media allows kids to hide or feel like it is not real. They can make these threats. Those are real. Lots of times we have seen the social media threats translate into reality around the country in these cases. We never look at it as a barrier. We look at it as like you left a journal or a note or scrambled -- scribbled on the wall of the school. That is the easiest the way to make it to social media a text to a friend. The good news and the reason why we have been able to get reports is people are reporting. They are taking it seriously. This is the plus side. We had the negative side that is the copycat effect. Kids want to copy because it is attention and they seek attention even negative attention. The plus side is our community seems to really be responding well and realizing that if they see or hear something, they must report it.

>>> House -- how specific up the threats been?
>> Some have been specific they had a specific date, a certain location, a target, sometimes they had a certain person in mind, someone who has upset them. The more specific a threat is, the more it causes more attention for law enforcement. We take each one to the natural conclusion. We engage the Catch team, FBI, we look at the IP addresses. What we have to answer, the first question is who made the threat. We cannot accurately assess the extent of that threat without finding out who made it. Once we find out who made it, then we go and look at that shouldn't have access to weapons. Have they been accumulating weapons. Have there been prior incidents of threats. All of those natural other investigative questions can be answered once we solve the identity. We still have a couple of cases of the 19 that were very close, but we don't have the person yet.

>>> You mentioned copycat. You mentioned an idea of a prank. Do we know why the bulk of these threats are being made? What is causing students to do this?
>> Threats are routinely made in schools. Unfortunately that is the highest target to mass threats. We are definitely seeing the copycat or effect. Since 2015 until February 14 of 2018, we had 45 total. And since February 14 we have 19. That is a clear copycat or effect we are seeing. It is very serious. It does not mean we cannot assume that the copycat or is not now encouraged to act. We have to deal with it very seriously.

>>> How do you determine if a threat is credible?
>> We look at several factors. Has there been a history of violence with this individual. We search open source intelligence in the media to see whether it connects to other threats or other relationships with more extreme groups that may be driving the conduct. We look at access to weapons. We work on using even the civil process of removing the weapon so that we can make that family safe. We look at whether they spent time at the firing range, whether they search through and look at other school shootings and how they were carried out. Whether they have looked at how bombs are built or other things. Every detail is followed up upon. We use psychologist that are also trained in assessment and our district attorney specialized team to really assess as accurately as possible to prevent harm.

>>> What happens to the students if they are identified as making these threats?
>> Making a criminal threat is a felony offense. It is serious. The range of consequences go from actually tell time to restorative justice to a form of probation. One big thing we want the kids to realize is there access to social media is taken away. That is one of the key probation conditions. Even there access to having a phone or a computer may be completely taken if they are on probation. It is serious because it is impact on our community serious.

>>> One we call the DAs office and asked to interview the deputy district attorney who handles all school threats, we were told we can only interview you. My question is how involved are you in these investigations?
>> This was a labor of love for me. I tried the last school shooting that happened in San Diego County where I saw and worked for two years with this community. And the tear is brought, to have this Gunman gun down 200 or so kids under the age of seven to a little girl was life lighted and I am still in touch with that school and the families there. Seeing that, looking at that case, we convicted the offender and sent him away. We also learned lessons. One of them was that the shooter had actually announced his intent to do exactly what he did. No one reported it. It was really important to me that we create a system where we don't just have an act of shooter protocol, that means it is too late. But we have a pretty active shooter call -- protocol where we can intervene and disrupt before it happens.

>>> What is the take away for parents and students who have been rattled by this increase in threats? What can you tell them ?
>> you have a lot of control. Bystanders are the number one way that we disrupt and interrupt shootings. You have a lot of power. I would say to parents to remember that it could be your kid. Your kid could be suffering from depression or being bullied. 75 % of our school shooters do it because they feel bullied. Talk to your kid. Talk to them about two things. One, to not make, directly tell them to not make threats. Threats can really cause harm to communities, and you can be charged for the crime. Also make sure that your kid, if they hear something, they say something, that they trust that the system will protect their anonymity and we will move into proper action. If proper action requires harsh accountability, that is what will happen with the team, probation, the court. If it requires the kit receives mental health treatment or some other humane care, that is what we will do also. Do not worry about being the person who tells. Just tell someone.

>>> I have been speaking with interim San Diego County district Attorney summer Stefan. Thank you so much.
>> Thank you.