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Two Pasco students, 14, face charges of making threats at their middle school

Two students face felony charges of making threats at R.B. Stewart Middle School in Zephyrhills. [Pasco County Schools]
Two students face felony charges of making threats at R.B. Stewart Middle School in Zephyrhills. [Pasco County Schools]
Published Oct. 13, 2016

ZEPHYRHILLS — Two Pasco County middle school students face felony charges of making written threats to kill teachers and students at their school, referring in their letters to "Sprinkles the clown."

The students, both 14, told a Pasco County deputy that their papers saying "teachers are gunna die" and "were gunna kill you," which were found inside Raymond B. Stewart Middle School, were intended as a joke.

But in an atmosphere where creepy clown threats and mass shootings at schools have generated angst across the state and nation, the documents were taken seriously. The boys were arrested and taken to the juvenile detention center Tuesday.

They're the latest local teens to be arrested over threats that were unlikely to occur, but still raised the fear factor inside schools.

Within the past week, a west Pasco sixth-grader was charged with a felony for a clown threat that officials said appeared to be made in a joking manner with friends at Seven Springs Middle School. A St. Petersburg High freshman also was arrested after making comments that he would shoot anyone in school who wasn't wearing red.

These activities come just days after the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and school district held a news conference to remind students and parents that the laws changed Oct. 1 regarding threats and false reports at schools. The new law does not apply directly to these cases, but the underlying message does, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Melanie Snow said.

"The message is, children that make the decision to do something like this might think it's funny or amusing, but they are risking a felony charge, which can follow them the rest of their lives," Snow said. "And, it makes people fearful. Children should not be afraid to go to school because another student chose to play a practical joke."

With the rise of clown threats, several principals have sent home similar advice to parents. Schools are paying attention, they said.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or jsolochek@tampabay.com. Follow @jeffsolochek.