Teen Arrested For Threats at Highland Park High School

Mara Powers hugs her daughter after Highland Park High was evacuated Feb. 27. (Staff photo: Chris McGathey)

A 16-year-old Highland Park High School student was arrested Wednesday afternoon for a series of electronic threats that began last month on the heels of several evacuations.

The boy’s 17 “electronic messages” included threats of violence to the school, staff, and fellow students, and were so well-masked that University Park police turned to federal law enforcement for help cracking the cyber crime.

The announcement came with many thank-yous: to the FBI’s Dallas office, the Secret Service, the Highland Park Department of Public Safety, and school administrators and staff.

However, students “deserve more credit than anyone else,” HPHS principal Walter Kelly said at a news conference later that afternoon, a couple of hours after University Park detectives arrested the boy on campus. Many students “were frustrated, were dismayed by this,” he said, “were really put off by it in a very serious way.”

Kelly cautioned that the breakthroughs in the case, which is still ongoing, “are not cause for celebration.” The suspect’s 17 separate felony charges don’t apply to the series of handwritten bomb threats that began in January, or the scattered shells found in February in a boys bathroom; those are still under investigation, University Park Police Chief Gary Adams said.

Reports of the electronic messages began in March. Before the month’s end, an anonymous donor kicked in $20,000 for a Crime Stoppers award, bringing the total bounty for information to $30,000.

Investigators got their cyber leads by other means, Adams said, though tracing the source of the messages — which included texts and even an email to Crime Stoppers — was complex enough to suggest the culprit “was pretty savvy, I would say.”

HPISD won’t discipline the boy — who is not being named because of his age — without due process, Superintendent Dawson Orr said, but the string of felonies “certainly does provide a basis for expulsion.”

Sarah Bennett contributed to this report.

By Georgia Fisher Apr. 17, 2013 | 3:43 pm | 51 Comments | Comments RSS
51 comments to "Teen Arrested For Threats at Highland Park High School"
  1. Avid Reader @ April 17, 2013 at 4:29 pm
    Thank Goodness!

  2. A minor in age, but not in the act @ April 17, 2013 at 4:33 pm
    For all the headache and trouble this person caused, they should release the name. The actions conducted were not that of a minor but of an adult and he should be charged as an adult.

  3. i feel sorry for the student for what he or she did and iam sure that he or she will be removed from the school for good and will not get a highland park high school education from it.

  4. DGirl1 @ April 17, 2013 at 6:04 pm
    @ Dennis Beechrl- I think “not getting a HPHS education” is the least of this teenagers worries!!

  5. Liz @ April 17, 2013 at 6:08 pm
    Fairly confident the person will be charged as an adult and put in prison. The least of his/her worries is getting a HPISD education right now.

  6. Georgia Fisher @ April 17, 2013 at 7:14 pm
    This was a double-byline story with reporter Sarah Bennett. Thanks :)

  7. Susan S @ April 17, 2013 at 8:33 pm
    Thankfully they have caught him, but it’s a sad situation all around. Sad for his future and such pain for his family. I hope the family has a good support system in place, they are going to need it in the days and weeks ahead.

  8. Hondo @ April 17, 2013 at 11:34 pm
    Jeez Dennis, you must have been out the day they taught punctuation at HPHS. That’s painful to decipher. As for this punk, his identity should not be anonymous when he calculated his actions like an adult to keep the threats coming for months. Hopefully, someone on this board or the DMN outs him and his family.

  9. Avid Reader @ April 18, 2013 at 7:41 am
    “certainly does provide a basis for expulsion.”

    Certainly hope Orr just has a bad sense of humor. If that doesn’t get someone an automatic expulsion, what does these days?

  10. Hp @ April 18, 2013 at 7:50 am
    Wondering if he is the only suspect involved. Still disappointed it took so long to find out who was behind this.

  11. observer @ April 18, 2013 at 7:50 am
    If he’s 16, I don’t believe he won’t be tried as an adult. You can only be tried as an adult at 17 yrs old. He will go to juvi court and if convicted juvi penitentiary.

  12. XT @ April 18, 2013 at 9:56 am
    @ Susan S, Thank you for some empathy.

    Listen, the kid messed up, and messed up bad. Certainly should be punished for this, and harshly. And I can’t imagine he won’t be. His life will be ruined forever. Anybody want to guess how his college/ job applications are going to be received? He will never escape this. But “outing” him? Needing to know his name and family? Why? What is the benefit of that?

    He could be the worst kid in the world, and this continues a pattern of depravity and indifference towards others. Or he could be a confused kid who wanted some attention, I certainly don’t know. He caused some legitimate angst with parents and kids at the school(and yes, I have kids in HPISD). But for once put yourself in the shoes of these parents, and this boy. 16 years old and his life is forever damaged. At 16. 16.

  13. nfw @ April 18, 2013 at 1:39 pm
    While I have enormous sympathy for this young man’s family, what he did showed genuine cruelty and enormous forethought went into commiting his acts. I hate that a life so young will be so damaged, but I know he understands the ramifications of his actions. Additionally, the school clearly warned everyone that they would prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. Still, I hope he gets the help he seems to so desperately need.

    As for outing him, I believe he was arrested during school. All the kids know his name, and, although I doubt publishing his name in the paper would bring any additional harm, what would be the point of doing so? He’s in custody and, hopefully, will be judiciously punished.

  14. DGirl1 @ April 18, 2013 at 1:46 pm
    @ XT – The name will get out anyway; look at the minors involved in the ESD scandal or the HPHS rape last fall.

    Regardless, it’s hard to have ANY empathy for this 16-year-old. He didn’t screw up once and get in life-changing trouble. He screwed up 17 TIMES. Someone who is that hellbent on terrorizing others is either 1) worthy of a lifetime lockdown for being so mentally unstable or 2) deserves to rot in prison for life. A 16 year old is old enough to know right from wrong and have self-control not to make repeated bad decisions.

    As for the parents, I don’t know what the situation at home is so I can’t say I have empathy or not. If they were another parent with a psychopath kid who wasn’t seeking serious outside help/intervention (see Columbine, Newtown, Aurora), I don’t feel anything but anger towards them. Same thing if they were oblivious to their child’s mental state and/or the terroristic threats going on at the high school. On the other hand, if they are frustrated ,exhausted parents who tried every available resource to help their psychopath kid, then yes, I’m heartbroken for them. It must be awful to have your own flesh & blood turn out that way!

  15. Dan Koller @ April 18, 2013 at 2:26 pm
    When I was serving lunch in the HPHS cafeteria today, a member of the staff asked a kid, “Have you heard anything?” The boy’s response: “I have a pretty good idea of who it is, but I haven’t confirmed it, so I don’t want to spread anything around.” Way to go, son. Confirm before reporting.

  16. Another Mother @ April 18, 2013 at 2:46 pm
    If you are wondering what it might be like to have your own flesh and blood turn out very different from what you expected you might read Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon. It’s an excellent, albeit long, book on this very topic. It was a NY Times best book of 2012. Thoroughly researched and very enlightening. It might give you empathy for families dealing with a variety of extremely difficult situations.

  17. TH @ April 18, 2013 at 3:17 pm
    There is definitely one 16 year old male’s name (which I won’t say) being thrown around as the one that got pulled out of class yesterday and is not back at school today. The name will get out shortly.

  18. Michelle Saunders @ April 18, 2013 at 5:15 pm
    Just to clarify — the 16-year-old student arrested yesterday has been charged solely with the electronic threats — not the handwritten notes found in the bathroom. To my knowledge, there is no information indicating that he was also behind any of the notes (or the box of bullets). As far as I know, that investigation is still under way.

  19. Ray @ April 18, 2013 at 5:58 pm
    @Michelle, Agreed. The last thing I heard was everyone was waiting on something conclusive from the FBI regarding the original letters/ammo. Anyhow, I have no need to know the said person’s name who is responsible. Im just hoping this will finally come to an uneventful ending and the person in question is able to get some much needed help. I sincerely wish the best for this person and his family.

  20. mk @ April 18, 2013 at 8:30 pm
    Does anyone know when/how the determination will be made as to whether he is tried as an adult or a minor? Also, for the legal eagles; if a minor is tried and convicted as an adult, how is the sentence served, i.e. does the child attend a juvenile facility until he is of legal age and is then transferred to an adult facility?

  21. Seriously @ April 19, 2013 at 9:25 pm
    How can one expect children to think before they act when one receives the following from the PTA president……quoting from an email sent to parents….I know we will all be glad when this week is over and will look back on this past month as a time of seriously unfunny hoaxes that wasted so much of everyone’s time. Hopefully we won’t be losing our bad weather days ahead to compensate for the lost time but I know that is a serious possibility at this point and will be extremely unpopular and painful for all of us.

    Really???? no wonder some of these kids think they are above it all….I would call what went on MORE than a “seriously unfunny hoax” and certainly did not worry about “bad weather days” as opposed to wondering if the children attending school were in danger….

    I am sure the Feds are not interested in re-classifying these types of threats as “unfunny hoaxes”…but one might put forth that theory. If the parents and PTA president can’t use their brains, why would we expect our children to do so?

    Either way, a lot of children were affected….not to mention the family of the boy arrested….and the boy. He is the one who will have to suffer for his lack of self control….and his “seriously unfunny” actions.

  22. I remember being 16 @ April 20, 2013 at 8:09 am
    Well said XT and Another Mother and to the rest of the posters that showed empathy for this kid. We are all thinking with our adult brains “Of course he understood the ramifications of what he was doing.” Doesn’t anyone remember being 16 and thinking you could get away with anything? I know this is extreme, but really no different than they guys my age (50) that are now productive members of society that made home made bombs and put them in lockers and toilets in high school. I know what you are all thinking… In this day and age you CAN’T do anything like that. Take off your adult hat and think 16… They aren’t thinking like we are. We will never know if this was a prank or if he intended any harm. I, personally, think it was a HUGE prank. Did anyone ever think that part of the motivation could be to see the bullies, the jocks, the wild kids and the cool kids pulled out of class in front of all of their peers and continually questioned by authorities and the FBI? Reduced to tears and have fingers pointed at them? My son was questioned multiple times… I was ok with that… Comes with the territory… You don’t respect your teachers then you probably don’t respect authority. I have no idea if this was part of his motivations for keeping the gig up and blindly ignoring the possibility of consequences, all I’m saying, is that this scenario is a possibility and as a 50 year old mother of boys I can see how this got out of control and was probably funny to see these kids that breeze through life ignoring anyone in their path be humiliated… I’m not saying that’s right or ok, but a lot of things 16 year olds think is funny is not right!!! I’m not making excuses, I’m just trying to help provide some insight into how 16 year olds think… I have raised 3 and still remember being 16, which clearly many do not. That goes for all you parents that say, my son/ daughter would NEVER do….(fill in the blank.) As Another Mother alluded, you never know what your child is capable of doing. I think by and large most (not all) but most of us try our best to teach our children the right thing to do… They just don’t always listen. One more thing… Speaking of the right thing to do… Why does an adult want to out a minor… REALLY? (I’m assuming these posts are from adults, maybe not?) To those, put your grown up hat back on and think, what good would that do? I pray this boy gets the help and is NOT locked away so that he may redirect his energies into positive actions. I’m sure that many people that have positively made enormous impacts in our world probably screwed up a time or two along the way!

  23. I remember being 16 @ April 20, 2013 at 8:15 am
    One more thing, HPHS, the UP and HP Police Dept. and the FBI did a great job keeping our kids safe and for that I am forever grateful. I know had to be BEYOND frustrating for them and who in the world would want the thankless job of trying to keep 2000 kids safe? No gripes from this mom! :)

  24. Avid Reader @ April 20, 2013 at 11:04 am
    Enough with the excuses and minimizing what this twisted individual did. They were not pranks, they were not funny hoaxes, they were serious thought out threats that luckily only left the school and community in disarray, fear and disbelief. As a result of this individual’s actions, they needs to feel the full brunt of the legal system whether that is lock up in juvi/jail or a full lockdown mental treatment facility if found to be warranted.

  25. Interested parent @ April 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm
    Has another boy been arrested? That is what the rumour mill is saying.

  26. nfw @ April 20, 2013 at 3:11 pm
    @I remember-I think you are cutting the kid way too much slack “for being 16.” Just being 16 does not give you the right to threaten the safety of 2,000 people because you believe you are “invincible” or you don’t deal well with consequences. I remember being 16 as well as you do, and I doubt that I had the total lack of empathy this kid exhibited through his actions. Being a stupid kid doesn’t excuse you from being a feeling human being. I feel empathy for this kid and his family, but he clearly didn’t feel the same for my family when my child and hundreds of others were holed up on lockdown.

  27. Oyvay @ April 20, 2013 at 4:37 pm
    @ I remember- Screwed up a time or two? How about 17 times? Sympathy and empathy left the building after about the 10th malicious bomb threat.

  28. dennis beecherl @ April 20, 2013 at 5:30 pm
    I feel sad for the boys mother and father who worked hard to rase a child with a good home in the parkcities and a top rated school highland park and the kid did something crazy like that and get removed from that school for good and can never go back and not get an education from it I think that is just terrible

  29. John @ April 21, 2013 at 11:53 am
    @dennis beecherl 1) are you related to councilman will beecherl and 2) are you plunking us with your retarded comments?

  30. david h @ April 22, 2013 at 1:38 pm
    This young man comes from a home of thoughtful and loving parents, who have done their best to obtain treatment for a boy who is sick. This story is a tragedy. As much disruption as the threats caused, they were a hoax, and the persons who have been hurt the worst are the boy and family. Our criminal justice system is finely tuned to heap scorn, abuse, and ridicule on offenders. It does not require the venomous assistance of those whose own failings and frustrated existences are temporarily elevated by the sins and sufferings of others. To the boy’s parents, be assured that we in the community who know you sympathize for you, and we know that the love of a parent for a child replicates as close as possible on Earth the love that God has for each of his creations. And all persons who seek God know the He shares none of the hatred for your son that is expressed by so many of the writers on this post. In fact, He loves your son as much as He loves DGirl1, Seriously, and Avid Reader: beyond all understanding.

  31. DM @ April 22, 2013 at 3:03 pm
    @David h. Very well said.

  32. Avid Reader @ April 22, 2013 at 3:48 pm
    @david h, I do not hate this individual; just ask that they be held accountable for their actions….all 17 or so bomb threats made through carefully thought out sophisticated means. Again, the twisted actions this young man took were in no way relatable to a “hoax”.

  33. nfw @ April 22, 2013 at 7:09 pm
    @david h-Kumbaya. I don’t think anyone is elevating themselves over anyone’s sufferings here. As Avid Reader said, we would like this young man to be held accountable for his actions no matter how painful and tragic it may be given his minor age. The criminal justice system is not there to heap scorn and abuse. It is there as a deterent to keep people on the straight and narrow path, which this young man has certainly strayed from. This may be a hoax to you, but when you have kids in the HS who were being threatened, I don’t believe this kid and his family are the only ones harmed.

  34. Another Mother @ April 23, 2013 at 10:20 am
    My impression of David’s comment was that the boy has mental health issues. While that does not excuse any criminal behavior it does highlight a very real problem that exists in this country. Parents try to get help but it is a challenge. Resources are few and far between and parents are left trying to figure things out with little assistance. Until mental health is taken as seriously as physical health I believe we will continue to hear stories like this. No doubt the boy will be held accountable. I don’t think that is even at issue. But he needs help he may not get and his family needs sympathy and prayers if they have tried their best to help their boy. It’s a very sad story and I feel terrible for his parents.

  35. DGirl2 @ April 23, 2013 at 12:03 pm
    @AnotherMother – you are right. Mental health issues need to be talked about more, understood more, destigmatized more and condemned less. Maybe that will help families in crisis, such as this one, feel open to getting help and talking about it. I’m glad the kid was caught and am angry at him for the trouble and anguish he caused. It was frightening for everyone. He should be punished and given treatment.

  36. Oyvay @ April 23, 2013 at 1:33 pm
    @david h-The message of the threats was indeed a hoax, but making the 17 threats and creating all the chaos and fear is a very real offense. Quit trying to make light of this. nfw is right, he should be punished because of the deterrent effect it will have on others who think about doing this in the future. Oh yeah, and God also loves each person he is going to send to the Devil in Hell for not believing in Him, so what is your point?

  37. GMOM @ April 23, 2013 at 4:27 pm
    Golly Guys, was anyone injured? Lighten up!! I realize all of you newbees, I like to call you all “Helicopter Parents”, bridge and tunnel people, new to civilized society are all up in arms to string up this kid when in fact the CIA,FBI,local DPS had to go to highly sophisicated intelligence and several months to find out this kid’s IP. They need him at Langley. He must be brilliant!! I also think there are 2 kids involved. It doesn’t matter what any of us think. No one was hurt,law enforcement got to practice how they are going to protect us this weekend, parents were freaking out which probably freaked out the kids more, the kids got some days off and they will have to make them up. So what? I remember cherry bombs dropped down the pot in the boys bathroom across from the Cafeteria, pipe bombs found in lockers, yep at HPHS, motor cycles driven around the first floor.
    Pranks. Even the kid that shot Reagan went to a mental facility – he grew up on Beverly Drive. So, why don’t you all step back and let’s see what happens??

  38. Avid Reader @ April 24, 2013 at 7:38 am
    @GMOM, Your post is beyond belief. Why don’t we just give the kid a medal for terrorizing the community.

  39. nfw @ April 24, 2013 at 8:36 am
    @GMOM, You are right. He likely is extremely intelligent. Intelligence, however, is not assurance of success or assimilation into society. EQ (Google it) is equally important in life, and I believe there may be a shortage of it given your comments. We “Helicopter Parents” kinda like to think that ALL kids should be able to attend school without being threatened by a bomb. Our tax dollars paid for the FBI, CIA et al to practice their skills, and most of us would have preferred they be spent on something a bit more productive, like say perhaps, some mental health assistance for those who need it. BTW I’m thinking most people don’t aspire to be John Hinkley (the guy who shot Reagan FYI), and I’m also pretty sure most people don’t equate attempted assasination with HS pranks. If you want to release pigs in the hall or ride your motorcycle on the first floor, have at it. Just remember, civilized societies do not smile kindly on their children being threatened. Given what went on in Boston last week, this stuff isn’t remotely funny.

  40. mk @ April 24, 2013 at 9:06 am
    GMOM, I’m amazed that you would reduce this boy’s purposeful misdeeds to the level of a prank where “no on was hurt, law enforcement got to practice how they are going to protect us and the kids got some days off.” Seriously? On 2/27, my daughter texted me a photo of herself hiding in a cabinet with her Language Arts teacher during a lockdown when they found the ammunition. In the message, she stated, “I’m actually scared. But it’s good we only have 4 people cause we’re all in cabinets so it looks like no one is actually here. I love you (just in case).” I really can’t tell you what it did to me to receive a message and photo like this from my beloved only child. In addition to the stress and disruption to the staff and students, there was a huge financial penalty to the school and UP/HP taxpayers. Bomb-sniffing dogs, helicopter surveillance and 8-hour searches of school property don’t come cheap. Additionally, I worked cafeteria one of the days that school had the early release, where food for 2000 kids was prepared and not used. The sports banquet that was cancelled after everything (food, decorations, etc._) was already in place was also a complete financial loss. I feel for the boy’s family, as they obviously are suffering, but no way should his actions be diminished to “prank” status. He also sent out Instagram pictures of the school and squad cars during the various lockdowns in an attempt to seem uninvolved; even if he has emotional/mental issues, he planned these hoaxes with a great deal of forethought.

  41. jopa @ April 24, 2013 at 10:11 am
    to GMOM… im a previous dallas resident, got kicked outa jesuit and BL graduated from LHHS. i was a very smart kid and got into really stupid kind of trouble, nothing bad or evil… just plain stupid. what you said is pretty much the only intelligent thing out of this whole article. If i was a student now and doing the same stuff as back then i would probably be in prison, but luckily when i was in h.s. people were a little more laid back including parents and they saw me for what i was not for my actions ( an extremely smart kid needing drive) So again thank you for your input it actually brought a smile to my face because it shows there are still logical people out there in HP nonetheless! haha

  42. Parkie @ April 24, 2013 at 10:25 am
    Uh, because your prank may be someone else’s Columbine massacre. Quite difficult to tell the differene until after the fact.

  43. Avid Reader @ April 24, 2013 at 11:06 am
    Maybe we should give the underwear bomber a job at Langley too since no one was injured during his “prank”.

  44. XT @ April 24, 2013 at 1:52 pm
    I see these as two different issues: One can certainly have empathy for everyone involved, while at the same time holding them accountable.
    I argued earlier that we should have some empathy for this boy and his family (especially until all of the facts come out), and I stand by that. But never once did I think that the boy shouldn’t be held accountable, and receive the punishment he deserves for these acts. At the same time, let’s not throw the boy away just yet either. To some other posters points, 16 year olds make a lot of mistakes, some more egregious than others. I know that I certainly did.

  45. Otis Day @ April 24, 2013 at 9:47 pm
    They should give him summer school, all summer. That’ll teach him.

  46. FBI @ April 25, 2013 at 8:10 am
    Hey, did everyone notice that GMOM lived in Manhattan for a while after college. She referred to the “newbees” as “Bridge and Tunnel” people. That means that she was a hipster who actually lived on the island. The “others” had to take a “bridge or tunnel” to get to where the sophisticats lived. So, she was able to marginalize people earlier too. Kind of like the people who don’t live in the Bubble.

  47. Avid Reader @ April 25, 2013 at 12:52 pm
    @FBI, It’s ok, GMOM is better than the rest of us because she doesn’t mind when people threaten harm and violence against our children; that’s old-hat. Apparently those that do are “Helicopter Parents” which makes the first time that term is used in a positive manner.

  48. cynthia @ April 25, 2013 at 5:35 pm
    A kid was cuffed and arrested at the middle school today. I realize we can’t know the name because he is a minor, but as a middle school parent with children at the school, I would like to know the reason why the person was arrested.

  49. HPISD Parent @ April 26, 2013 at 6:46 am
    Odds are it was drugs. With the exception of one for assault last Fall, all the middle school arrests in the past 6 years have been for drugs.

  50. HPISD Parent @ May 4, 2013 at 7:46 am
    Here you go – UP Police report:
    “An assistant principal at Highland Park Middle School told police that a juvenile student had marijuana in his possession at 3 p.m. on April 25 in the 3500 block of Granada Avenue.”

  51. cynthia @ May 4, 2013 at 6:44 pm
    @HPISD Parent Thank you so much for the follow up. I really do appreciate your making the effort.

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