Student charged with inducing panic at Austintown school

Austintown Police arrested a tenth grader and said social media chatter made the perception of a threat greater than it was

Austintown Fitch High School exterior

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Police have arrested and charged a 10th grade student on Thursday with inducing panic by making inappropriate comments at Austintown Fitch High School.

Parents in Austintown have been calling and emailing the WKBN newsroom Wednesday and Thursday with concerns about a possible threat at the school.

Police said the student who was charged got into a heated argument and words were exchanged on Tuesday during lunch, which started a panic that blew up out of proportion on social media. Police said those rumors were that there was going to be a shooting at the Austintown Fitch cafeteria on Friday — a rumor that was quickly discounted after interviews with hundreds of students on Wednesday, according to Austintown Police Chief Bob Gavalier.

Austintown Schools Superintendent Vince Colaluca said the threat was not credible, but that people communicating on social media about the possibility of violence at the school fueled fears and made the threat seem worse than it was.

“Within a half hour, we got 40 calls from parents concerned about the threats and wanting to know what’s going on, if it’s true or not,” Gavalier said.

Investigators did come up with new information Thursday morning and quickly charged their suspect. Although police don’t believe the arrested student ever meant to carry out his threat, the panic that ensued led to claims of bomb threats and student hit lists online.

That student is facing a felony charge, because the alleged threat happened on school grounds.

Colaluca said officials waited until they had confirmed information before releasing any statements. He said the district never uses social media..

“For the fact that we can’t control it, so we ask our community and our members in the school community to use Drund. We call it ‘Falcon Nation,'” he said.

Police stress Facebook is not the place to learn what is happening in school.

“That’s the message I want to get across to them. If we ever felt there was a situation, I’m sure the school felt the same thing, if they thought there was a situation down there and the threats were real, we would have put something out to the parents, and the schools would have gotten ahold of them also,” said Gavalier.

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