WEST CHESTER >> A 14-year-old student at West Chester East High School has been charged in connection with a series of racially tinged threats against fellow students posted on social media.
Police said the 14-year-old black male has been charged as a juvenile with terroristic threats, harassment and cyber harassment of a child. Police described the youth as the main suspect in the series of posts.
“The investigation also negated the hate crime aspects of the incident,” a police release reads.
The defendant is being charged as a juvenile and police said no other personal information is not being released.
Absenteeism at East High School was up on Tuesday but Principal Dr. Kevin Fagan does not know if that is any indicator of whether those numbers are related to the posting.
Students and community members packed a meeting Monday night at the Charles A. Melton Arts and Education Center in West Chester to talk about the situation and ongoing problems at the school, many centered on racial slurs, bullying and other activities by young people on social media.
On Friday at East, 103 students were absent. On Monday, 100 called in sick and on Tuesday, 140 students did not show. Fagan had no breakdown based on ethnicity.
Teachers and staffers were listening to students all day long about the incident.
Fagan said that when something like this occurs, it is upsetting and that some of the students were shaken by it.
Police and school officials are investigating a series of racially tinged death threats against students at West Chester East High School that popped up on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
West Goshen Police announced Monday they found the student responsible for the threats. While the teen has not yet been charged, an arrest is pending.
The social media posts caused an uproar in the community and sparked a community meeting at the Charles A. Melton Arts and Education Center in West Chester attended by several hundred people Monday night.
In a since deleted Instagram account, one person posted: “I feel bad for ya’ll. “Because ya’ll think it’s a joke. Each and everyone ... will be killed tomorrow, read the post, which included a racial expletive.
It is believed that another post on the same account threatened specific students.
The threats were made on an Instagram page called “East Shade Room” and referred to black, Hispanic and white students with slurs and racial nicknames. Police say three West Chester East High School students were singled out with the message, “If you guys come to school tomorrow, you will die.”
The threats were apparently posted Sunday but referred to Monday, which was also the 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Extra police were on campus Monday.
Police report that a suspect was interviewed and admitted to posting the threats on Instagram. The case is now being reviewed by the district attorney’s office, according to a press release from the West Chester Area School District.
“Based on the interview and the subject’s statement, the West Goshen Township Police Department feels that there is no threat of violence from this person,” reads the release.
West Chester Area School District Superintendent Dr. Jim Scanlon said Monday that student use of social media is “out of control.”
Scanlon said the posts might be related to the anniversary of 9/11. He also said that similar posts by students are common on the weekends.
“It’s typical to get this stuff on this anniversary day,” Scanlon said.
West Chester East High School Principal Dr. Kevin Fagan wrote a letter to the community Monday.
“I want to reiterate to all of our students that any student engaging in this kind of behavior will face disciplinary action from the school district, in addition to any action taken by police,” Fagan wrote. “We will continue to be vigilant as we keep safety for all as our priority.”
Beth Sweet’s oldest son is a junior at East High School. She responded, in part, to a letter posted Monday by Fagan.
“Students were threatened individually by name, and the threats appear to be racially motivated,” Sweet wrote in an email. “His misrepresentation of the situation makes it worse by belittling and hiding the racism in the school.”
WCASD Digital Communications Coordinator Jen Neill said Tuesday afternoon that “it is business as usual” at district schools.
Neill was thankful that police nabbed a suspect within 24 hours of the posting.
“West Goshen Police put the pedal to the metal to identify a suspect,” Neill said. Sweet said that the threats “should not be happening every weekend.”
“There are good kids that get along, but there is another pocket of kids who are bullied, and the school doesn’t know how to handle it,” Sweet said. “They’re embarrassed by it and try not to bring attention to it and they make the problem bigger because there are no consequences for the kids.”
West Chester Borough resident Stacy Pollard attended Monday’s meeting.
She said the district should work harder to confront racism and promote diversity.
“When things like this happen they want to brush it off like it never happened,” Pollard said.
“It should be talked about. Without conversation you can’t have results. For it to be 2017 and for it to be this prevalent is ridiculous.”
Neill said that the district is aware of critics and followed established practices and notified police.
“We are well aware that there are some people in the community not happy with the way we handled it,” she said.
The district will continue to stay on course.
“The district works hard on issues of diversity and racism,” she said. “We always try to keep a dialogue so this stuff doesn’t happen. This type of student behavior will not be tolerated.”
Associated Press contributed to this report.