High school student arrested for fake gun threat

Rohnert Park police arrested a high school teenager last week responsible for posting a photo online that suggested he may commit a school shooting the following day.

Public Safety personnel at Rancho Cotate High School received word that a student was posting explicit content on his Snapchat account for other students to see. 

The content was a photo of an assault rifle sitting in someone’s lap with the caption, “Don’t go to school tomorrow.”

The gun, seen above, was actually an airsoft rifle made up to look like a real weapon.

The gun, seen above, was actually an airsoft rifle made up to look like a real weapon.

Snapchat was the first to receive information about the post when it was flagged. An investigator who is in charge of monitoring these kinds of incidents contacted the FBI to report the post as a threat. 

FBI agents immediately started to track the IP address of the account and discovered it was coming from Rohnert Park. The account belonged to a 17-year-old Rancho Cotate student whose name was not released due to him being underage. 

In a press release from the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety, the department praised the collaborative effort of all involved.

“Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety officials are appreciative of the swift actions by Snapchat Inc. as well as the collaboration with the FBI and the school district,” the press release stated. “Had this posting not been intercepted, it would have caused undue fear to all of the campuses in our community.”

Detectives quickly sprang to action and were granted a search warrant to enter the juvenile’s home. They were unable to initially locate the weapon but the student said that it was just an airsoft gun, a replica weapon that fires plastic pellets, which belonged to one of his friends. The aforementioned friend is also a 16-year-old Rancho Cotati student who was not aware of the social media post. Detectives arrived to the friend’s house and confiscated the weapon, which did turn out to be an airsoft gun.

Airsoft guns, or “toy” guns, are required by law in California to possess a colored tip in wake of the 2013 shooting death of Santa Rosa native Andy Lopez, who was shot while holding one by Santa Rosa police. The weapon that was in the Snapchat post did not have the required tip. 

The young man said the weapon was just made to look real and the whole thing was intended to be a joke. “I did not think it would be a big deal,” said the student who initially posted the Snapchat post. He was arrested and booked into the Sonoma County Juvenile Hall on suspicion of criminal threats. 

In a quote given to the Press Democrat, Deputy Chief of the Rohnert Police Department, Aaron Johnson, said, “I don’t think they realized how fast social media spreads and how large social media networks are, or the magnitude of fear any time you talk about school safety.”

Rancho Cotate High School’s principal, Louis Ganzler, sent out an email after the incident explaining that police determined there was no threat to student safety. The email stated, “Our administration team will continue to monitor the situation and maintain constant communication with the police.”

Rohnert Park Police Chief Tim Mattos stressed the importance of school safety. “We must continue to work together to ensure that our schools are a safe environment where learning can take place,” he said. “It is important our students know that any information regarding violence on a school campus, whether it be a hoax or not, will be taken seriously.”