12, 13-year-old arrested for Winnipeg school threats, but those teens can still be reached, says expert

12, 13-year-old arrested for Winnipeg school threats, but those teens can still be reached, says expert

A 12-year-old and a 13-year-old have been arrested after making online threats to local schools, say Winnipeg police.

Recent threats to Arthur Day Middle School, John W. Gunn Middle School, and École Van Belleghem, have caused anxiety among students, parents and school staff alike, with schools going into hold-and-secure mode in an effort to keep kids safe.

Winnipeg Police Cst. Jay Murray said investigating the unfounded threats tied up a number of police resources, with the week-long investigation costing the Winnipeg Police Service around $45,000.

“From the moment we received those threats to today, you have a number of uniformed and investigative officers working on these files,” said Murray at a Wednesday news briefing about the arrests.

“Essentially it was a waste of resources. We needed to take these threats seriously, but they’re entirely preventable if these youths didn’t make these threats in the first place.”

Murray suggested parents sit down with their kids and talk about making these kinds of threats and the negative outcomes, including the potential for a criminal record.

Attention-seeking gestures

According to a digital media expert, people who commit crimes like school shootings are often inspired by previous acts of violence, although that likely isn’t the case with the recent incidents in Manitoba.

“I think it’s a little bit different to talk about what, in this case, seems to be teens acting out some of their growing pains or discomfort or unhappiness by making what look to be attention-seeking gestures with no real intent to shoot up a school,” said Amy Morrison, digital media professor at the University of Waterloo.

Morrison told 680 CJOB Wednesday that a large cross-section of teens experience these types of powerful emotions, and that it’s important to reach out and listen to their concerns.

“That covers a lot more kids who are confused, who are angry, who are upset in a non-homicidal way, but are tending to say these things online.

“That’s a group we can definitely reach, and we should be talking to them.”

A letter sent to parents at Arthur Day Middle School Jan. 22 talks about ‘digital citizenship’ – something Morrison said is important for young people in particular to learn.

“Digital citizenship means being aware,” she said.

“When we use social media, youths tend to think of it as a place for socialization, a place where there’s no grown-ups and no consequences – kind of like hanging out in the rec room or the basement with your friends talking trash about your teachers with your friends, where it’s not going to leave that room… but of course, our social networks are a lot more broad.

“Taking into account how material that is intended to be seen by a very small group of people and understood in a particular context can really rapidly escape that orbit.

“Our words are likely to be understood into something much bigger where it can cause a great deal of panic and disruption for everyone.”

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