Legal experts: Teens making school threats face serious legal consequences

ST. LOUIS - Violent threats against schools are popping up on social media platforms all over the nation, prompting law enforcement and school administrators to act fast, in many cases closing schools, putting them on lockdown and internally disciplining the student responsible.

What many students don't realize is that their actions could have serious consequences that could stay with them for life. Once an individual is 17, they're treated as an adult and can face a misdemeanor or felony charge of Making a Terroristic Threat. It's a charge attorney Scott Rosenblum warns freedom of speech won't protect.

"The First Amendment gives you a lot of coverage, especially in the social media world, but it's not completely unbridled coverage and protection, and if you start making those types of threats, it is certainly a violation of the law and you subject yourself to harsh punishment," Rosenblum said. "Potentially, you can go to jail and then, in addition to that, you lose your right to vote, you lose your right to serve on a jury, and you lose your right for a firearm."

St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar said juveniles may not see the same serious punishment which he sees as being problematic when it comes to school threats.

"Anyone who is under the age of 17, which is going to cover the vast majority of students especially in our high schools and middle schools, they’re part of the juvenile system. It’s really incumbent on the juvenile system to be aggressive and work cooperatively with the schools so they can identify these kids and try to sort out what’s real and what’s not real," he said.

Lohmar said he thinks the juvenile system across the state should be reformed to be more equipped to incarcerate juveniles who commit serious crimes, like school threats.

"I think that alone would have a significant deterrent effect," Lohmar said. "Right now these kids think that they`ll be able to get away with it and go see a counselor and get to go home that night."

Last Thursday, St. Louis County Prosecutors charged a University City High School student with Making a Terroristic Threat after he posted a video on Instagram with a toy gun stating that he was "going to take people down."

University City officials are now looking for ways they can raise awareness and educate their students about the seriousness of certain actions.