Minor in custody after Instagram threat to 'shoot up' Liberty High School

North Liberty police chief: Suspect was using anonymous account in group chat

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NORTH LIBERTY — Threats on social media to “shoot up the school” and target a specific student caused classes at Liberty High School to be canceled Friday while a juvenile behind the warning was taken into custody, authorities said.

North Liberty Communications Director Nick Bergus said the juvenile, who was detained about 9:30 a.m. Friday. faces charges of first-degree harassment, an aggravated misdemeanor; and threat of terrorism, a Class D felony.

Police have not said whether they believe the minor had the capacity to carry out the threats.

Authorities, in fact, declined to disclose basic facts about the minor — including age, gender and whether the juvenile attends Liberty, a newly constructed high school that opened this fall.

Principal Scott Kibby and Iowa City schools Superintendent Stephen Murley did not return calls seeking comment.

According to authorities, the episode began unfolding Thursday evening over Instagram.

North Liberty Police Chief Diane Venenga said a “concerned individual” contacted police at 8:30 p.m. Thursday to report that threats were made in a group chat on the photo and video sharing social media platform. The threats included ones directed to a student who was part of the group chat, according to Venenga and a statement from the Iowa City school district.

“It came from an anonymous account,” Venenga said. “The threat was naming an individual and that activity would happen (Friday) that would cause harm.”

Because the investigation into the threats was not resolved by Friday morning, a decision was made to cancel classes and activities at Liberty High. Students and faculty were advised to stay away from the building.

Classes at other schools in the district were not affected. Venenga said other schools in North Liberty were aware of the threats, and police continued their normal patrols.

A nationwide study published in 2015 found that bomb and shooting threats against schools were up an astounding 158 percent from the year before, based on media reports and other data.

The increase was being driven by the rising popularity of digital applications, found the study conducted by National School Safety and Security Services, an Ohio consultant.

“We found that electronic devices and social media apps are fueling the growth of these threats, especially with new, anonymous apps that young people are rapidly adopting,” the consultant reported.

According to a news release from the district, Liberty staff members were allowed to return to the school Friday afternoon, and it also was reopened for extracurricular activities.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

Molly Duffy of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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