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Earlier this month three students were left dead in a shooting spree at an Ohio high school and two more were wounded. Some news reports say the accused teenage gunman, T.J. Lane, had posted threatening messages on social media prior to the shooting.
The Ohio shooting was almost certainly on the minds of Attleboro police last week when they arrested 18-year-old Natick Sands and 20-year-old and Ryan Ringuette. The two were arrested after allegedly posting comments on Facebook discussing a shooting spree at Attleboro High School.
Some say the comments were a joke. Others, chiefly the Attleboro District Attorney's office, say they constituted a credible threat.
The conversation started last week when a user with Natick Sands' name posted on Facebook. The post read:
and people wonder why I talk about random mass killing sprees all the time... FED UP.
According to news reports, Ryan Ringuette responded by saying "I'm with you," and mentioned Columbine — a reference to the 1999 shooting at the Colorado high school that killed 12 students and one teacher. The two then discussed how the first target of the shooting would be the school cop.
After the conversation was reported to the school principal, Sands and Ringuette were arrested. Both were charged with threatened use of a dangerous weapon at a school and face a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Ringuette's Facebook comments have since been removed from the site. But Natick Sand's are still there, and because the comment stream is still live and open to the public, there are now over 220 comments on the initial post.
One comment from a Facebook user named Courtney Beauchamp read:
Joke or not this is unacceptable, you can't take chances anymore especially when its about a school, last thing I would want is my kid in a school with someone who Is threatening to shoot it up. Whoever "snitched" did the right thing!
So in a post-Columbine, post-Virginia Tech era, what's the appropriate response to off-the-cuff remarks about gun violence in schools? Does freedom of speech extend to jokes about a shooting spree? And if this was mindless social media chatter, how should law enforcement respond? Should the judicial system send a message that these kinds of comments are unacceptable?
This segment aired on March 12, 2012.
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