American Heritage Charter Schools Closed Friday Due to Threat

Police say a suspect posing as a real-life minor online posted a threat of violence against Heritage K-8 Charter School

A chat room post threatening violence at an Escondido, Calif., school has turned into a true case of whodunit. Investigators have concluded the minor who initially appeared to be responsible for the threat had nothing to do with the crime.

Now, the attention of Escondido police has shifted to tracking down the real culprit.

“You have left a trail, we will follow it and it will lead to you,” said Escondido Police Lt. Neal Griffin at a briefing Friday afternoon.

Heritage K-8 Charter School in Escondido cancelled classes Friday after learning that someone had made a violent threat against the school online. On Thursday night, the school posted this message on its website alerting parents and students:

Tonight, January 16th, at around 8:00pm, we received word from the Escondido Police Department that someone had made a threat of violence towards our high school for tomorrow, January 17th.
We want our students and staff to be safe, so as a precaution we are closing school tomorrow, January 17th. We will be back in session on Tuesday, January 21st.

Heritage Digital Academy and Escondido Charter High School, also part of the American Heritage Charter Schools system, posted similar messages on their websites.

According to Lt. Griffin, the Escondido Police Department first learned of the threat Thursday night after six reporting parties around the country – including callers from Texas, Illinois and Washington – alerted authorities.

The post the parties had reported seeing online said the Heritage K-8 Charter School would be attacked at 10:30 a.m. Friday and included the words "barrage of bullets," Lt. Griffin said. Police spoke with school faculty and they agreed it would be best to cancel all school activities for the day.

As police launched their investigation, it soon became clear that the case was much more complicated than it seemed.

Lt. Griffin said 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 is 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.

“This minor child is a victim of a very malicious personal attack of identity theft,” Lt. Griffin explained. “[This is] not a hoax, it’s a very serious crime.”

The lieutenant said the investigation into the threat is ongoing and said the Escondido Police Department has conferred with the FBI regarding the case.

As of Friday afternoon, officials could not say whether they had narrowed down a suspect. They also couldn’t confirm the age of the perpetrator.

However, Lt. Griffin did say investigator feel “very confident” that they will be able to solve the case.

“We’re becoming increasingly focused and we’re pretty confident that what has begun as a very large pool will become smaller and smaller,” he said.

Once in custody, Lt. Griffin said the suspect will face a number of charges, including false reporting of an emergency and identity theft.

For now, Lt. Griffin said experts in computer analysis are leading a meticulous investigation and are currently examining a computer that could unlock more answers.

“There is no such thing as cybersecurity. There is no such thing as anonymity,” he said.

Though officials won’t say if the suspect is a juvenile, Lt. Griffin said that if the crime does involve a young culprit or culprits, that person or persons should come forward.

He said investigators believe the case has a local connection and are asking the suspect to identify themselves.

Lt. Griffin also said parents should use this as a warning to keep tabs on their children’s internet activity at all times.

“Computer and privacy and kids just don’t mix,” he said.

The ordeal left some Escondido parents and guardians on edge.

Grandparent Efren Garcia received a call around 10 p.m. Thursday notifying him of the school closure and arrived on campus around 6:30 a.m. Friday to get more information.

“I’m scared really. I’m scared with my child,” Garcia told NBC 7. “Better not bring my child today.”

Dennis “Coach” Snyder, executive director and founder of American Heritage Charter Schools, credited Escondido police for being proactive.

Snyder said police told him they found the threat online claiming someone was going to shoot up Escondido charter high school then commit suicide.

Besides posting the alert of the threat and cancellation of classes on the schools’ websites, faculty also posted the news on their Facebook pages and sent automated phone calls to the homes of students.

Again, the investigation into this incident is ongoing. Anyone with tips on this case should contact Escondido police at (760) 743-8477.

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