At least three examples in north Missouri involve prosecution of school threat hoaxes

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is stepping up enforcement of so-called school threat hoaxes that have proliferated since the rise of the school shootings across the country.

The campaign aims to “educate the public on the consequences of posting hoax threats to schools and other public places, and reminds communities that these hoax treats are not a joke.”

Following school shootings, such as the ones at Santa Fe High School near Houston that killed ten and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that killed 17, the FBI says it often sees an uptick in threats made against schools — most are hoaxes.

Locally, the Hannibal Police Department says those hoaxes are treated as legitimate until determined otherwise.

“All perceived threats to the schools are treated seriously,” said HPD Chief Lyndell Davis.

HPD reviews video footage, questions people, conducts home visits and reviews and seizes digital evidence if needed, Davis said. The manpower used to determine the difference between a credible threat and a hoax can be time consuming.

“It can cause considerable staff hours to determine the threat was merely just someone seeking attention, a fact-less rumor or was the start of a potential threat,” Davis said. “The time devoted to determine what is true or not and take appropriate action is the price we must pay in order to reduce the threat to our schools.”

The FBI also follows up on every tip received from the public.

“Making false threats drains law enforcement resources and cost taxpayers a lot of money,” according to a press release from the federal agency. “When an investigation concludes there was a false or hoax threat made to a school, or another public place, a federal charge could be considered, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.”

Making a terroristic threat is a misdemeanor in Missouri.

There are at least three cases in the past few months in north Missouri in which a threat hoax has been prosecuted. All involve students.

In Linn County, two students attending Meadville High School were arrested for allegedly telling others that a shooting was going to occur. Police arrested the suspects in the separate incidents shortly after the shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Closer to Hannibal, a Paris man will have a court trial in August after posting on a social media platform in December 2017 that he was “Bout to shoot up the school”. The message was superimposed over an image of the suspect, Jason A. Lansche, inside one of the school's buildings. The school subsequently went into lockdown mode. Lansche allegedly told Monroe County deputies that the image was a “joke” and a “mistake.” If convicted of making a terroristic threat, he could face up to a year in prison.

Davis said there hasn't necessarily been an uptick in school threat hoaxes, but due to publicity and severity of school-related incidents over the past few years, law enforcement and school officials are more reactive and sensitive to any type of perceived threat.

“Decades ago what now would cause a police investigation might not have been treated as seriously or with such urgent attention,” Davis said.

The FBI campaign urges people to #ThinkBeforeYouPost — and emphasizes that people should never joke about a school threat. Messages affirming this will be seen on digital billboards and social media.

Reach editor Eric Dundon at eric.dundon@courierpost.com .