Today’s fun educational story comes from Ohio, where a student wrote a message on the blackboard in his classroom threatening to murder everybody at his school. For two days in a row. (Story)
Or so some of his classmates thought. Upon investigation by the school, it turned out that the message “December 7, Time to [some symbol]” actually referred to the fact that the Super Smash Bros Ultimate video game was coming out on December 7. When the concerns were brought to the principal of the school, who investigated, found that the symbol was emblematic of the game and harmless, and let the whole thing go.
Of course, this wasn’t the end of it. Rumors started in the school that this kid really and truly was going to shoot up the school, which led to an investigation by the school resource officer which found that the kid was excited about the upcoming release of Super Smash Bros Ultimate on December 7. A letter was sent home, etc.
I’m not writing to say that the school did anything wrong in this case. It’s clear that, when it was brought to their attention, the principal and resource officer did exactly the right things in investigating a possible threat. When the matter was explained to them, they did exactly the right thing in concluding that the threat was false. In this case, the system worked.
What’s appalling about this situation is that both the students and parents of this school were so quick to judge that this kid, whom everybody thinks is “weird” (according to his own account), was going to shoot the place up even though the matter had already been investigated and concluded.
Let’s use this story as a cautionary example regarding the rush to judgement. If a weird kid in the school puts something weird on the board, it’s entirely appropriate to ask if it means something odd. However, when it has been investigated by the school, it’s time to let it go. Problems with school shooters have either happened when 1) Everybody ignored warning signs; or 2) The shooter surprised everybody with their apparent harmlessness. When the school does everything right in investigating a suspected threat, it’s time to let it go.
The boy who was twice investigated in this case was essentially bullied by those of his classmates and their parents who believed that somebody with seemingly odd interests is naturally harmful. Perhaps instead of treating others like the enemy, we can try treating them with respect.