A San Marino High School (SMHS) senior was arrested Monday morning after a text message the student sent to a group of friends threatening extreme physical harm to one of the recipients was discovered by the FBI, causing a lockdown of San Marino High School.
The student, who is a minor, was released at 5 p.m. Monday, according to a family member, and is awaiting a court date.
The threat was reportedly intended as a prank among friends but mentioned the shooting of one of the recipients. In an apparent effort to disguise the source of the threat, the subject outlined a plan to “[come] to your school [Monday]” to follow through with the threat, apparently lending further credibility to the claim. The text message was sent through an application that can disguise the identity of the sender.
One of the seven recipients of the text message contacted the anonymous WeTip hotline and reported the threat. San Marino Police Department (SMPD) Chief of Police John Incontro told The Tribune that the FBI in Washington, D.C. received the tip Sunday.
“Apparently, someone at the FBI believed it was serious enough to get involved,” Incontro told The Tribune.
When accessing the WeTip website, the first prompt asks a user wanting to submit a tip “Is this a School Incident?”
By Monday morning, the FBI determined the source and recipient of the threatening text message and informed the West Covina branch of the FBI, who placed a call to Incontro Monday morning at 6:20. Incontro initiated a conference call that included San Marino High School Principal Dr. Issaic Gates, Superintendent Loren Kleinrock and Assistant Superintendent Linda de la Torre. At 6:45 a.m., it was decided that the campus should be locked down.
Detectives from the SMPD were dispatched to interview the recipient and the apparent source of the threats. Officers also arrived at San Marino High School to search and secure the campus, which was occupied by students attending classes and activities during “zero hour,” a class period that runs from 7:00–7:54 a.m.
The subject—who is a juvenile—was arrested at his San Marino home shortly after 9 a.m. for making criminal threats and was taken to Alhambra Jail, where he was processed and fingerprinted. He was then taken to the SMPD, where he stayed until he was released to his parents at 5 p.m. An earlier report said the young man was taken from the Alhambra Jail to a juvenile detention facility in Pasadena, but that turned out to be incorrect.
The lockdown was lifted shortly after 10 a.m. and students were asked to return to campus for fourth period classes, which begin at 11:10 a.m. on a standard school schedule.
School Board President Lisa Link was contacted early in the morning and went immediately to the SMHS campus.
“The first and immediate goal was to secure the campus and confirm that all students, faculty and staff who were already on campus were in safe locations with access to food, water and restrooms,” Link said. “Once there was a police presence protecting the various entry points on the campus, the next priority was communicating with faculty and staff who were on their way to work, and then with parents and students who were not yet on campus. While any inconvenience to parents’ and students’ schedules is not desirable, we appreciate the community’s understanding that the safety of our students who were already on campus was the overriding priority.”
Link was grateful for the police response.
“On behalf of the Board of Education, I thank Chief John Incontro, Commander Aaron Blondé, the San Marino Police Department and other local police departments for all of their outstanding efforts to provide a safe and secure environment on the San Marino High School campus this morning,” Link said Monday afternoon. “Our gratitude extends as well to Principal Gates, district administrators, and the teachers and staff who were on campus during the lockdown. It is obviously very distressing to hear about threats of violence against our students and to have to lock down a school campus, but it is reassuring to know that the SMPD and the district effectively worked together to follow established protocols to ensure our students’ safety.”
Incontro said that 11 officers from the Pasadena, San Gabriel, Alhambra and South Pasadena Police Departments were dispatched to the campus and that the SMPD this morning held over its four officers from the overnight shift and called in another five officers and a sergeant to respond to the threat and police the community.
“Once we secured the campus, we focused on the investigative leads,” Incontro told The Tribune. “Once we spoke to the victim and the subject, there was nothing to lead us to believe there was another threat at San Marino High School or any of the district’s other campuses.”
Incontro also said that the subject was “very cooperative” when contacted by police.
When contacted Wednesday morning, Incontro said that everything “went well.”
“We have prepared for this kind of thing, we have had trainings and discussions when [former Superintendent] Dr. Cherniss was here, and it worked,” Incontro said.
He called the school district personnel with whom he interfaced “great partners.”
“[School Board President] Lisa Link was tremendous,” Incontro said. “It is nice to have primary decision-makers on scene. Thankfully it wasn’t as serious as it could have been.”
He called the FBI’s ability to take an anonymous tip and find the subjects across the country “amazing.”
“The things they can do these days with technology is incredible,” he added.
Incontro said that he hopes to work on better communication with the community, and mentioned that a system which is intended to inform the community’s private schools did not materialize.
“We will work on that,” he said. “Parents want information and as a parent myself I understand that. We try to put it out as soon as we can, but we were investigating a crime and one that includes a minor and a school and a school and we have to take that very seriously. People have to understand that sometimes you cannot get immediate information. We are not CNN. We are not a news agency.”
Incontro also credited the young man who filed the WeTip report.
“He should be praised for that,” Incontro said. “He thought there was a credible threat and he reported it. We always talk about ‘see something, say something’ and he did. I appreciate that.”
He feels the entire incident was “a hoax that went way out of control” and also praised the young man and his parents for their responses.
“They are very responsible parents,” Incontro said. “This turned out the right way.”