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Editorial: Sadly, we have a duty to respond seriously to school threats

A former student was arrested early Friday morning and charged with making a bomb threat directed toward the Hall County school system.

She was already on probation for having done so in the past.

Was there ever any real reason to believe a bomb existed? Probably not, but in a world where shootings and bombings and other forms of evil attacks on humanity have become commonplace, it would be irresponsible to assume the threat was a hoax.

So law enforcement and school personnel were searching buildings Thursday to assure student safety, and investigators worked into the night to make an arrest.

Kudos to all of those who responded in a swift and timely manner so that some degree of normalcy could return to the school day on Friday, though not even word of an arrest could allay the fears of some students and parents.

This is the world in which we live.

The Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager
  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown
  • David George
  • Mandy Harris
  • Brent Hoffman
  • J.C. Smith
  • Tom Vivelo

The ease with which those so inclined can access social media to threaten others, and the frequency with which it happens, have exacerbated exponentially the urgency associated with such threats. Once upon a time, such events were given little credence; today they cannot be ignored. What was once assumed to be kids playing games on an anonymous phone call now have to be considered viable threats to public safety until proven otherwise.

To threaten lives in any such manner is morally wrong; to do so within a week of two mass shootings in different states is reprehensible. Yet someone likely thought it was a cool thing to do, something funny to cause disruption and fear, and to bring a special kind of attention to the person responsible.  

There is one school of thought that says the news media should simply ignore such events, that publicizing them plays into the hands of those who want the attention that it garners. You hear the same logic directed toward those responsible for mass shootings; ignore them and they won’t get the attention they so desperately seek, and will lose the motivation to act.

While there may be some merit to that argument, we think keeping the public informed about such threats and the people who make them is part of our responsibility to the community. We believe that letting others know someone was arrested for making such a threat will hopefully serve as a deterrent to others so inclined.

If attention is the appeal, then that garnered via social media is as at least as important as any that may come through traditional media outlets. The aggressive, combative tone of many social media interactions adds fuel to emotional fires that are better left unfed.

What none of us can do is ignore the reality that in today’s climate anything is possible, and every such event has to be taken seriously. Last week’s threat serves as a reminder that we all have an obligation to be vigilant and to report any such situation of which we may become aware, even if it seems silly to do so. The school system learned of the threat posted on Twitter on Thursday afternoon from someone who saw it there, which led to the involvement not only of school officials but also the county sheriff’s office and the GBI.

Just as with determining the motivating factors behind the actions of mass shooters, the reasons behind something like a baseless bomb threat may never be clear to rational people. Whether it’s a cry for help, a need for attention, a perverse exhibition of personal power, or just a mean streak and a serious personality disorder, the priority has to be neutralizing the threat first, then worrying about everything else.

The sad reality is we’ve seen too many instances where the threats were not empty; where someone said they were going to destroy lives and then did so. We know full well that explosive devices can be made by those with no expertise in doing so, that weapons can be obtained, that threats posted to social media can become bloody realities.

There is far too much hard evidence for us to allow ourselves to become deaf to the shouts of the boy who cried wolf.

Following the arrest, school officials said they looked forward to “another normal and safe day” in the county’s schools. Normal, safe and vigilant. Ever vigilant.

If the accused is convicted, we hope the punishment is harsh, swift, and well publicized so that others will realize such actions can no longer be considered as inconsequential. There is nothing benign about having an elementary school student worrying that they may be killed if they show up in the classroom.

Local officials did a good job last week of providing information without fanning the flames of what could have easily escalated into a firestorm of overreaction. It would be great to think this will be the last time such an effort is required, but that’s not likely.

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