Last Tuesday, one student was arrested and one was referred to the county attorney for charges; on Thursday and Friday there was eight additional arrests, all due to threats against the district on social media, Sioux City Police Chief Rex Mueller said.
The arrests coincided with a nationwide fear of school shootings last week, after some users of the popular social media platform TikTok published or shared posts alluding to shootings that were supposedly planned for Friday, Dec. 17.
The students are, or may be, facing charges of harassment due to the posts.
The threats are still being investigated and Mueller said they still have other tips they are investigating.
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“This is not a joke, it’s not funny, whether it’s on TikTok or Snapchat or whatever it is, this is very serious, it will be taken very seriously and you will be held accountable,” Woodbury County Sheriff Chad Sheehan said.
Parents should teach their children proper social media use, law enforcement and school officials said on Monday, and they should educate children on how to alert them of alarming posts.
Sheehan encouraged parents to take this opportunity to discuss social media with their children. Topics such as what apps the children use, what content they post, what content their peers post and what is appropriate are all topics parents can discuss.
“Make sure they know what is acceptable to you, their parent,” he said. “Discuss what may or may not be acceptable in the school and what is acceptable in the law.”
Mueller said social media presents temptations for students to make comments that could be threatening.
The district has a social media guide for parents on the website called “Social Media Safety” which outlines what each social media platform is and gives tips on what parents should discuss with their children.
Superintendent Paul Gausman said these types of conversations could happen in the schools, but it is more important to happen at home.
He said parents and students to take steps to stop the negativity and threats occurring on social media.
He thanked the parents and students who came forward and alerted them to the threats last week and encouraged students to continue to report anything that is concerning.
“A lot of the tips we received over the last week was a student that showed their parents a post that they had seen and they then in turn passed it to us,” he said.
Students and parents can approach school staff, police and anonymously through crime stoppers.
County Attorney P.J. Jennings said threating posts will not be taken as jokes and kids could face charges ranging from harassment to terrorism. The students can also be suspended or expelled due to the posts.
Parents could also potentially face charges depending on the circumstances of the case, he said, adding parents can no longer hide behind what they did not want to do or know about.
“Encourage them that if they do see anything or hear anything that is alarming, even if it’s something that they can’t identify specifically but it makes the hair on the back of their neck stand up or if it gives them a weird feeling in the pit of their stomach, that they come forward with anything,” Sheehan said.