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3 Lathrop High students facing possible criminal charges; 16 deputies deployed
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Three Lathrop High School students are facing stiff penalties – including criminal charges and possible expulsion – after making social media comments on a PTA Instagram page on Sunday night about committing a school shooting.

According to authorities, the comments were made late Sunday night on the Instagram account operated by the Mossdale Elementary School Parent Teacher Association. School administrators didn’t become aware of the incident until Monday morning. They notified Lathrop Police Services immediately. The police used their contact within the Sacramento Valley Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force to begin the process of identifying those responsible.

Out of an abundance of caution, Lathrop Police called in reinforcements from the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office to post two deputies at every school site in Lathrop – 16 deputies in total – while detectives and investigators worked with tech companies to track the IP address of where the threats originated and tracked down the students that were responsible.

Within three hours of being notified, the person that made the post – and two other students that were involved – were in custody.

“The District takes threats to our schools very seriously. Out of an abundance of caution, we notified Mossdale Elementary School and Lathrop High School communities of a threat made via social media indicating a school shooting,” the district’s statement on the incident read. “In partnership with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Lathrop Police Services, the students were apprehended quickly.”

And the district plans on driving the point home to the students involved and anyone who doesn’t understand the significance of what transpired on Sunday night how unacceptable these threats – even when empty – actually are.

“Lathrop High School administration will impose the strongest penalty within our jurisdiction on the perpetrators up to and including removal and seeking expulsion of the students identified,” the district said in a statement. “Administration, Detectives, and Officers worked diligently including involving the Hi-Tech Crime Task Force Detective to identify the students.

“Lathrop Police Services were able to determine the threat was not credible, as no weapons were found on the juvenile or in the residence.”

According to Lathrop Police Chief Ryan Biedermann, the students were communicating via a video game conversation on headsets while the crimes occurred.

And they didn’t just stop at posting on social media about committing a school shooting.

Biedermann said that the students are also believed to be responsible for calling McDonald’s in Lathrop on Sunday night and threatening to use an assault rifle in a shooting inside of the restaurant.

While the three students were transported to the San Joaquin County Juvenile Justice Center where one will face charges of making criminal threats and all three will face charges of conspiracy, Biedermann believes that the penalties for diverting police resources perhaps need to be even stiffer to send the message that such actions will not be tolerated.

“This has been happening enough to where we are wasting a large amount of resources to investigate these things because we always treat them as if they are real until we are proven otherwise,” Biedermann said – noting that the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office pulled detectives from the Agnet and AB109 task forces to help provide security while the matter was being investigated. “My recommendation is for our management team to do research to see how we can get the cost of that response added as part of the restitution for charges like this.

“I think it’s a good idea to send the message – calculate the amount of taxpayer dollars that the City of Lathrop, the County of San Joaquin, and Manteca Unified are spending on non-credible threats and make that something that has to be paid back.

“Ultimately it becomes the parents that would be responsible for that, but these kids need to know that if they’re going to play games like this there is a heavy price tag.”

The incident on Monday wasn’t the first non-credible threat in Lathrop in the recent past, and the incident only further added to the fears of many parents after high-profile school shootings have rocked the country in recent years.

Even though the most recent Lathrop incident was proven to be a hoax, district officials are encouraging parents to discuss the proper ways of using social media while at the same time encouraging their students to report any activity that they observe while on the internet that may potentially be threatening.

“We ask at this time that parents and guardians have critical conversations about their students about appropriate uses for social media and to continue to immediately report any threats to the law enforcement agency,” the district’s statement read. “We understand that this is a difficult time and there is a heightened concern for the safety of students and staff.

“We want to assure you our staff has reviewed the school safety plan and is prepared to follow appropriate protocols in the event they need to be deployed.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.