WEEKI WACHEE — A 13-year-old boy was arrested Thursday after threatening to conduct a mass shooting at his school, according to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. The boy said it was a "joke" and deputies said he did not have the means to carry out the threat.
Several students at Winding Waters K-8 told a school resource deputy about the threats Thursday afternoon, the Sheriff's Office said. Deputy Paul Smith investigated and found a threatening social media post.
The boy, who the Tampa Bay Times is not identifying because of his age, told the deputy the post was "only a joke," according to the Sheriff's Office. He was arrested on a charge of making a written threat to conduct a mass shooting, a second-degree felony, and taken to the Marion Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Ocala.
The Hernando County School District sent out a robo-call alerting Winding Waters parents about the incident. Deputies said they do not believe there is any further threat to the school.
Deputies arrested the student because of the severity of the threat and the "enormous amount of anxiety" after incidents such as the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, said Hernando sheriff's Lt. David Lewis, who oversees school resource deputies.
"This is not a game — this is not funny in any stretch of the imagination," Lewis said. "We've got to get these kids to understand how serious these types of threats are."
Lewis described the social media post as a student holding what looks like a gun, with the words "Don't come to school tomorrow" superimposed over the image. His description matches a screenshot of a Snapchat post that circulated on social media Thursday night.
The boy told the school resource deputy that the gun in the picture was an Airsoft pellet gun that he'd posed with at a friend's house the night before, according to an incident report. Deputies did not find any firearms or ammunition during a search of his parents' home, according to the report. The boy's parents told deputies that their son has no experience with weapons and they don't believe in keeping or using guns.
Winding Waters officials were available Friday morning to students and parents who had questions, said principal Janet E. Cerro. During lunch students grades five through eight also heard from administrators, guidance counselors and the school resource deputy about the importance of reporting threats.
"A key point to that message reinforces that any claim of 'joking' about a threat is not accepted either by school administration or by law enforcement," Cerro wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.
The Sheriff's Office said it will work closely with the State Attorney's Office in this case, Lewis said, with an eye toward getting the 13-year-old into a diversionary program.
Contact Jack Evans at email@example.com. Follow @JackHEvans.