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Juvenile's MySpace post leads to modified lockdown at Hartselle

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

HARTSELLE — Almost two days after a gunman killed 32 and himself at Virginia Tech, authorities learned that a former Hartselle student had directed similar threats at Hartselle High, Police Chief Ron Puckett said.

The suspect, who is a juvenile, will be charged with making a terrorist threat, the chief said.

The juvenile turned himself in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Pickens County, S.C., on Wednesday.

Authorities started looking for the suspect after students told them about the threat they read on MySpace, a popular social networking Web site.

Because the investigation is ongoing, Puckett did not release the specific wording in the threat.

"There were no named students or teachers, but it was related to a shooting," he said.

Before South Carolina authorities had the suspect in custody, parents were arriving at the high school to check out their children. Most of the parents said they learned about the threat from text messages they received from their children.

"I'm not sure how she knew, but my wife called from work and told me to get our boys," Robert Allen said. "I'm not afraid, but as parents we have to be cautious."

Allen worries that similar threats may come if students realize they can check out.

"At some point, we have to take a stand and just let our children go to school," he said.

Between 150 and 200 of the school's 635 students checked out.

Investigators learned the former student was with relatives in South Carolina after talking to his parents who reside in Hartselle, Puckett said.

The chief did not have specific information about what happened in South Carolina. He said the FBI informed Hartselle that the suspect had surrendered.

"Right now, we're trying to figure out if he should be charged in Alabama or South Carolina," Puckett said.

Spokesmen with the Pickens County Sheriff's Department and Liberty Police Department in South Carolina said they had not charged anyone on Wednesday with making a terrorist threat.

If Hartselle charges the suspect, Puckett said, he will be charged as a juvenile.

"There will be a hearing (if he is charged in Hartselle), but we will have to go to South Carolina to get him," the chief said.

Superintendent William Michael Reed said the former student is a 16-year-old male freshman who has not been at Hartselle High since April 2.

Although Hartselle authorities were not informed about the threat until Wednesday morning, students in neighboring school systems said they read the threat on Myspace as early as Tuesday night.

Reed said a student told School Resource Officer Tim Hudson about the Myspace posting Wednesday morning.

Hudson notified school administrators who immediately put the school on "modified lockdown" and asked the Police Department for extra security.

"We had school personnel at every entrance to the high school," Reed said. "All the doors and exits were covered."

After learning about the high school situation, administrators at other Hartselle schools put their sites on modified lockdown, a school official said.

Although the Police Department has not charged the former student, Reed said the school system has taken out a warrant against him for allegedly making a terrorist threat, which is a Class C felony.

After receiving information about the threat, Puckett said his department's concerns were to find the suspect and assure parents that their children were safe.

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