In a true case of whodunit, a 17-year-old living in Miami is the alleged culprit behind an online threat against an Escondido school that lead to the temporary shutdown of the campus earlier this year.
According to Escondido Police Department Lt. Neal Griffin, the teenager – who has no affiliation whatsoever to the school in this case, Heritage K-8 Charter School – is the person responsible for posting a threat of violence against the school on a website back in January while posing as a minor from Escondido.
Griffin revealed the conclusion of the months-long investigation Wednesday. He said the teenage suspect in Florida has not been arrested or criminally charged in this case.
On Jan. 16, 2014, a violent threat was posted on a social media website directed against the school. The message was reported to Escondido police by people throughout the country who saw the post in an online chat room, including callers in Texas, Illinois and Washington.
The message, according to investigators, included very specific threats of violence that would occur at the school at 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 17, 2014. The message included the words “barrage of bullets.”
As a precaution, the school was closed on Jan. 17 as police launched an investigation into the cyber threat. They returned to school a few days later.
At a press conference during that time, Griffin said the case was much more complicated than it seemed because the suspect who posted the threat did so by impersonating a minor online, making it appear as if the minor was the person behind the post.
Police tracked down the minor thought to be the author of the post, an Escondido resident who was not a student at Heritage K-8 Charter School.
After an extensive interview with the minor in the presence of the minor’s parents, Lt. Griffin said investigators concluded the minor had nothing to do with the post and was not the sender of the threatening message.
Rather, the minor framed in this case was a victim of “a very malicious personal attack of identity theft,” Griffin said.
“[This is] not a hoax, it’s a very serious crime,” said Griffin back in January.
According to the Escondido Police Department, the investigation into this case involved extensive forensic computer analysis, evidence and witness interviews.
Ultimately, all of that led police to a home in Miami.
The FBI Miami Cyber Task Force is now working on this case alongside an Escondido detective that specializes in computer-related crime.
Police said this act could be characterized as an act of “cyber bullying.” It’s also a serious federal crime that could carry fines and a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
As of right now, Escondido police said the joint investigation with Miami law enforcement is ongoing. Prosecution of this case is still being discussed.
For now, the Escondido Police Department is relieved to have cracked the complicated case that impacted many students and their families in San Diego.
“We are extremely grateful to all the agencies that assisted in resolving this incident. I was confident from the beginning that our detectives had the training and skills necessary to identify the person who committed this crime,” said Escondido Police Chief Craig Carter in a statement released Wednesday.
“We will always aggressively investigate cyber-crimes that target our community and when appropriate we will seek restitution for the financial impact," he continued.