Sunday, February 18, 2018
Public safety

Pasco student's fake stabbing report triggers Twitter panic

WESLEY CHAPEL — In the middle of lunchtime, a 14-year-old Wesley Chapel High freshman approached a teacher and said another student had stabbed her, revealing a hole in her shirt and a bleeding inch-wide cut to her abdomen. She saw the other student regularly, she said, but didn't know his name. And he and his knife were somewhere on campus.

Lunch is arguably the worst time to have — or to think you have — an assailant on campus, said Lt. James Law, Youth Services section commander for the Pasco Sheriff's Office. Students are out of class, congregated in a large area. They run around or bunch together and there is no order. Corralling them into a safe place can be tough.

The teacher rushed to find student resource officer Ben Beson, who immediately put Wesley Chapel High, and three adjacent schools, on lockdown. The girl was sent to the nurse with wounds that would later be described in reports as "superficial" — and self-inflicted.

Deputies determined she used a pen top to slice herself, out of vengeance and to get attention.

But before that was known, crisis mode took hold.

Students crammed into the cafeteria. In-car radios lit up for every law enforcement officer in the area. Between 15 and 20 patrol cars pulled up to the school within minutes. Deputies, corporals and other school resource officers swept the campus.

"If there's even the slightest indication of a suspect on campus, we're going to lock down the campus immediately," Law said.

And the students, stuck in captivity, took to their touchscreens.

When students, and anyone, are trapped in emergency situations without explanation, said Pasco School District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe, they use their smartphones like a submarine's periscope. They scan their Twitter feeds for anything that will tell them what's happening. They text their parents.

This has become so commonplace that Cobbe says she is briefed on minor incidents like fire drills so she can field calls from concerned parents.

The tweets from Wesley Chapel on Jan. 24 started vague and ominous.

"Prayers go out to all Wesley Chapel High students," wrote Emily Vandeberg, a Zephyrhills High School student.

With information still sparse, Twitter users tried to gather what they could.

"Wesley Chapel High is on lockdown. Anyone know WhatsUp?" tweeted @WhatsUpDubC, an account that bills itself as "Your source for all things business and entertainment in Wesley Chapel, FL."

One person tweeted to Bay News 9, asking what happened.

After news outlets got hold of the story, and while students were still in lockdown, Twitter users reached a consensus that a student had been stabbed. And that it was a girl.

Unconfirmed information passed as fact. Falsehoods filled-in for uncertainty and morphed narratives.

"Prayers to wesley chapel high school," tweeted @DAG_soccer, "a freshman stabbed a girl and she was airlifted out, he has a gun and was arrested but got loose."

In reality, the freshman girl was taken into one of the school's administrative offices for questioning. Her mother was there. The girl confessed to deputies that she was lying and that she hoped to get another student in trouble because she didn't like him.

"Ultimately," Law said, "it was attention-seeking behavior."

Deputies were called off the hunt. The students finished the school day on lockdown and left, classroom by classroom, in controlled dismissal. Buses were delayed a half hour.

The girl was arrested on a charge of making a false report to law enforcement and three charges of disrupting a school campus. She was booked into the Land O'Lakes juvenile assessment center.

Around 3:30 p.m., another flurry of tweets, beginning with news outlets and others linking to news stories, reflected that farce.

Adding a link to a story by Fox 13, @Savannah0212 tweeted simply, "she made it all up."

Later that afternoon, Cobbe went on Facebook and Twitter to quell the furor.

"There are many rumors on social media about an incident at Wesley Chapel High School," she wrote on the district's Facebook page. "A student has a superficial wound and has not been transported to the hospital. At this time there is no indication that another student was involved. The Sheriff's Office continues to investigate, but all schools are out of lockdown. All Wesley Chapel High School students have been dismissed."

Parents jumped on the comments section asking why they weren't notified by the school. Cobbe says she recorded an automated alert message to call parents and tell them the school was in a lockdown, but it was never sent because the district has some parent cell phone numbers, but not all.

"The lack of communication," one woman wrote on the Facebook page, "was worse than the actual event."

Normally, Cobbe said, the alert calls go out to parents whenever a school is in lockdown, even if the cause happens to be fake. Sometimes, a lockdown lasts just a few minutes, and administrators don't have time to record and send a message because they are tending to students. In those cases, a recorded call will go out, telling parents the school has been in a lockdown.

Either way, she said, "they want to know."


Pinellas Sheriff’s Office accuses 14-year-old of copycat Snapchat school threat

PINELLAS PARK — The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office late Saturday said detectives arrested a 14-year-old boy and accused him of posting a threat to a school on his Snapchat account.Edward Charles Osgood, who attends Lealman Innovation Academy, was a...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Man found dead in flaming mobile home

TAMPA — Firefighters found a man dead inside a burned-down mobile home Saturday.Tampa Fire Rescue got a call just after 4:30 p.m. that a single-wide mobile home at the 100 block of East Linebaugh Avenue was in flames.The man’s identity was not releas...
Published: 02/17/18
‘I’m going to watch you bleed’: Nikolas Cruz threatened ex’s new boyfriend, report says

‘I’m going to watch you bleed’: Nikolas Cruz threatened ex’s new boyfriend, report says

Warning: This story quotes graphic material.Before he killed 17 people at a South Florida high school, Nikolas Cruz repeatedly threatened an ex-classmate who had started dating his former girlfriend, according to a report in Buzzfeed News."I’m going ...
Published: 02/17/18

Police find dead man in Tampa apartment

TAMPA — Police found a dead man inside an apartment in the 5200 block of Sonora Court Friday after 3 p.m.Who the man is or how long he’s been dead is not yet clear, police said. The victim appears to have been killed in some sort of "homicidal violen...
Published: 02/17/18
Prosecutor: Death penalty was ‘designed’ for cases like Florida school shooting

Prosecutor: Death penalty was ‘designed’ for cases like Florida school shooting

The 17 counts of premeditated murder against Nikolas Cruz are the type of case "the death penalty was designed for," according to the Florida prosecutor in charge of trying the confessed school shooter.But Michael Satz, the longtime Broward state att...
Published: 02/17/18
Florida, angry and grieving, takes gun protest to streets

Florida, angry and grieving, takes gun protest to streets

PARKLAND, Fla. — Thousands of angry students, parents and residents demanded stricter gun control laws Saturday as new details were revealed about the suspect accused of shooting and killed 17 people in a Florida high school. The rally, held in downt...
Published: 02/17/18

Woman hit, killed Friday along Memorial Highway

TOWN ’N COUNTRY — A woman died after she was hit by a minivan along Memorial Highway on Friday night, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The 53-year-old woman, whose identity was not released, was trying to cross Memorial Highway f...
Published: 02/17/18
White nationalist appears to disavow connection with shooter

White nationalist appears to disavow connection with shooter

PARKLAND, Fla. — A white nationalist appears to have lied to The Associated Press and other news organizations when he claimed that Florida school-shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz was a member of his obscure group.Law enforcement officials have said the...
Published: 02/17/18
How killer’s path through a school left 17 dead in six short minutes of terror

How killer’s path through a school left 17 dead in six short minutes of terror

It was Valentine’s Day across America.At an all-American high school in a green and placid Broward County suburb strung with waterways and golf-course communities, that innocent fact would take on dreadful significance well before the day was out.Bet...
Published: 02/17/18
Two students wounded by gunfire outside Tampa’s Middleton High campus

Two students wounded by gunfire outside Tampa’s Middleton High campus

TAMPA — With a nation in jitters over a South Florida school massacre, gunfire erupted a block from Tampa’s Middleton High School on Friday, prompting a reaction that had some students hiding behind locked doors.Two senior girls, ages 17 and 18, were...
Published: 02/16/18