Local students accused of making social media threats could face major consequences if found guilty

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - At least nine students have been taken into custody for threats made to schools in Hampton Roads this week.

News 3's Aleah Hordges spoke with defense attorney Nicholas Renninger at Kozak, Davis, Renninger & Belote P.C. in Portsmouth.

He said it can be challenging to prove the student arrested was the person who made the threat on social media, but lately it hasn't been tough to do.

"A lot of these juveniles when confronted are confessing to making these threats and a lot of them are passing it off as a joke, or saying that they didn't really mean it," Renninger stated.

A guilty conviction can negatively affect a student's future.

If they're under 18 years of age, the minor can be required to do community service, be on house arrest or sent to a juvenile detention center.

The verdict can also affect them if they ever face criminal charges as an adult in the future.

"That will increase the sentence recommendation and potentially the time that you will serve an as adult," Renninger said.

Teens who have a prior record could be charged as an adult.

They could face up to five years in prison, pay a $2,500 fine and the felony won't be expunged from their record if a judge found them guilty.

"You will not be able to vote, you can't lawfully carry a firearm or posses a fire arm, you cannot run for public office. Obviously you maybe precluded from certain employment opportunities," continued Renninger.

However, Renninger mentioned there is a chance the charges could be dismissed, but they could still face probation if the juvenile has a clean record.

It's a lesson lawmakers feel students should learn from and never do again.

"The whole policy behind the juvenile system is try to give these kids another opportunity--a second chance," he added.

In a joint letter to parents from 10 local school divisions released Wednesday, superintendents said that students who make threats will be subject to both school discipline and criminal charges and shared tips to families on how to provided safe environments for students to learn and grow.

Read the letter in its entirety below:

Dear Hampton Roads Families:

Following last week’s school shooting in Florida, we all have experienced a wide range of emotions from shock and sorrow to anger that something like this could happen. Schools are a place where children deserve to learn free from fear.

The responsibility of keeping our schools safe belongs to everyone. In these times of heightened awareness, schools, parents, staff and the community at-large must remain ever vigilant in our efforts.

As you know, we have many security measures in place in our schools across Hampton Roads. In addition, as superintendents of the region, we are joining together with local police agencies to address disturbing social media posts or comments made that could be perceived as a threat. Any threat made against any one of our schools – even those made “as a joke” – will have serious repercussions, including potential criminal charges and a possible recommendation for expulsion from school.

We are reinforcing this message with students and we need your help at home. We all have a responsibility to treat information regarding school safety with caution; the oversharing of misinformation in most cases will create problems, not prevent them. We ask that any social media or other threat be reported directly to law enforcement and school officials, rather than shared through social media channels. Quite simply, if you hear or see something, say something.

  • We also encourage parents and caregivers to monitor students' online activity and to employ these strategies:
    Know what websites and social media sites your child is using. Look at what they are posting and who they are following.
  • Stress that making a threat is not to be taken lightly and that there are severe consequences.
  • Talk with your child about recent local and national incidents. Explain that feelings such as sadness, anger, disappointment, and fear can be normal responses to tragedies for children and adults.
  • Watch for changes in behavior and seek help if your child needs assistance dealing with anxiety or feeling safe.
  • Contact your child's school and law enforcement if you believe your child is capable of making a threat and following through.
  • Keep an open line of communication with your children and encourage them to tell you or another trusted adult if they become aware of a threat or rumor of violence.

Working together at school and at home, we can and will make a difference for our children and our community. You place your
trust in us each and every day. As superintendents, we have no greater responsibility than to educate our children in a safe
environment where they can learn and grow, without carrying the weight of fear and anxiety on their shoulders.

Thank you in advance for partnering with us in this important work and for your assistance in keeping our children and communities
safe.

Sincerely,
Dr. James Roberts, Chesapeake Public Schools Superintendent
Ms. Tamara Sterling, Franklin City Public Schools Superintendent
Dr. Jeffery Smith, Hampton City Schools Superintendent
Mr. Brian Nichols, Newport News Public Schools
Dr. Melinda J. Boone, Norfolk Public Schools Superintendent
Dr. Jennifer Parish, Poquoson City Public Schools Superintendent
Dr. Elie Bracy, III, Portsmouth Public Schools Superintendent
Dr. Deran Whitney, Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent
Dr. Aaron Spence, Virginia Beach City Public Schools Superintendent
Dr. Olwen Herron, Williamsburg-James City County Schools Superintendent

Click here for full coverage on local schools receiving social media threats.