AUSTIN (KXAN) — A private company is claiming responsibility for notifying Austin Independent School District police about a tweet that lead to a student’s arrest.
“15 rt’s and i’ll blow my brains out right here in class,” the student wrote, referring to retweets.
The Twitter account shows that was posted at 8:36 a.m. Wednesday. Court records state that, by 10:45 a.m., someone from Washington D.C. was contacting AISD police about the Twitter account sending alarming messages. Although official documents indicate it was someone with the “F.B.I. Tactical Institute,” Austin ISD Police Chief says it was actually the Tactical Institute, a for-profit that contacted the department.
“I believe in this case we did get a strong signal that was coming from the high school in real time.”
“This was not the FBI or big brother monitoring. It’s a private company,” said Tactical Institute’s founder Bob Dowling in a phone interview with KXAN.
Dowling says the company focuses on hiring combat veterans to comb the Internet for possible threats.
“We had one of our team members put out on our secure post that they found a tweet that said ’10 retweets and I will shoot the class,'” said Dowling.
He says Tactical Institute also saw the second post indicating possible suicide. Dowling says his company quickly narrowed the focus area to Austin, Texas.
“We have a way — legally — again using Twitter and other social media to be able to look at the history of an account and be able to zero in,” said Downling. “I believe in this case we did get a strong signal that was coming from the high school in real time.”
Dowling says the company has helped stop eleven public school shootings since Sandy Hook.
Police found the 18-year-old student charged in the case, Mark Bocanegra, had no weapons in his possession, the documents indicate. “I don’t like my government class, don’t like the teacher, and I’m having a bad day,” court records state Bocanegra told police. The records also indicate the student admitted to posting this tweet: “10 rt’s and I will shoot the class.” However, that post is not currently listed on the Twitter feed for the account.
“The threat that was posted was done so publicly and online, but as far as the decision to make an arrest, to charge the student with a felony, to pursue that criminally, that’s completely outside of our purview,” said Dowling.
AISD Police Chief Eric Mendez says the company’s caller supplied a badge number, which might have caused some of the confusion over exactly who was providing the tip. Mendez says the source of the information does not change the probable cause or the investigation.
Threats in Texas Schools
School districts are seeing an increase in terroristic threat cases, according to Texas Education Agency Data. Last year the state recorded more than 1,600 cases, of those 45 were in Austin ISD.
Under Penal Code Section 22.07, a person commits an offense if he threatens to commit any offense involving violence to any person or property with the intent to:
(a) cause a reaction of any type to his threat by an official or volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies; or
(b) place any person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury; or
(c) prevent or interrupt the occupation or use of a building; room; place of assemble; place to which the public has access; place of employment or occupation; aircraft, automobile, or other form of conveyance; or other public place; or
(d) cause impairment or interruption of public communications, public transportation, public water, gas, or power supply or other public service.
A person who receives a terroristic threat must not only believe the threat, but also believe that the person making the threat will carry it out.
“Terroristic Threat” violation is also a discretionary expellable offense dependent on the local Student Code of Conduct.