By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – The “victim” in the recent cyberbullying case at Safford High School which had numerous students held home from class out of caution Monday has been arrested and jailed for allegedly posting all the Snapchats herself.
The juvenile, who is a freshman at Safford High School, was booked into the Eastern Arizona Regional Juvenile Detention Facility on charges of making a terrorist threat, false reporting of terrorism, use of an electronic communication to terrify, intimidate, threaten, or harass, and interference with or disruption of an educational institution. The case is still under investigation, and additional charges may follow.
The “victim” allegedly admitted to sending all the Snapchats herself, which began Oct. 23 and continued through Nov. 6. The chats were violent, threatening to kill, burn down her house and suggesting she commit suicide. The school immediately took action when it learned of the cyberbullying and suspended the girl whose Snapchat account the threats were sent from. However, it turns out the presumed suspect was innocent of all charges and is, in fact, a victim herself.
“With cyber crimes, it’s frequent that what initially seems to be the case is not the case,” Safford Police Chief Joe Brugman said. “It’s very easy to assume somebody else’s identity and a lot of these people know this. A lot of these people have had their Facebook accounts hacked, well, this is the same thing.”
Brugman said early during the investigation, the presumed suspect passed a polygraph test and surrendered her cell phone for forensic evaluation. Additionally, one of the Snapchats came out while the presumed suspect was at the Safford Police Department being interviewed. There was also video of the presumed suspect at the school’s lunchroom when another Snapchat came out and she didn’t have her phone with her and yet another instance when a Snapchat came out where the presumed suspect was caught on video with the principal and the Safford Police Department was in possession of her phone.
“It was becoming pretty darn clear that (the presumed suspect) was not the source of this,” Safford Police Chief Joe Brugman said. “So, at that point, the investigators had to go to from a high-degree of surety that this is the suspect back down to nothing. So, we had to start digging and sending in all these subpoenas, warrants and put in preservation orders so that they (Snapchat) didn’t destroy the evidence because they kick that out of their system.
After receiving evidence back from Snapchat on Wednesday, the investigators positively identified the “victim” as the person who had been sending the messages and promptly arrested her at the high school.
During a subsequent interview, she allegedly confessed to sending all of the Snapchats herself in an attempt to gain attention. She apparently had gotten the presumed suspect’s password and sent the Snapchats herself on the suspect’s account.
The mother of the girl spoke to Gila Valley Central on Wednesday night and said her next step was having her daughter apologize to the presumed suspect and her family and getting her own daughter the help she needs.
“Hold your kids tight and let them know you are always there for them,” she said. “Actions always have consequences.”
In a press release Wednesday night, the Safford Police Department said it and the Graham County Sheriff’s Office would be following up on the domino effect from the Snapchats, including those who may have committed cyberbullying to the presumed suspect.
“This case generated a great deal of negative banter on social media, much of which was directed at an innocent young woman, (the presumed suspect), which was completely undeserved,” the release stated. “The Graham County Sheriff’s Office and Safford Police Department will be investigating abuses of the social media by other users that included threats and harassment of (the presumed suspect). We (the Police Department) were very disappointed at the reaction many people displayed on Facebook and other social media. A substantial number of people posted statements that were bullying, ironically, when they were attempting to speak out against a bullying incident!”
“The irony to me is pretty incredible,” Brugman told Gila Valley Central.
Safford Schools Superintendent Ken VanWinkle also sent out a press release Wednesday night, thanking the investigators, administrators, school staff, and supporters.
“This has been a very difficult time for many of us who have had our names and our schools blasted on Social Media, particularly Facebook, because we were not giving out information to which some people thought they should have access,” VanWinkle said in the release. “It is not easy knowing this kind of stuff is being spread on a “Blast” page, but doing the right thing, even when it may not be popular is still and will always be the right thing.
It is disappointing that some people, including adults, chose to release names of individuals, even going as far as threatening them in an attempt to smear the names of some children. Hateful, accusatory, inflammatory, and just plain mean things were posted or said by people with a blatant disregard of factual information. Many people chose to believe what was posted and then chose to add more fuel to the fire. The use and misuse of social media especially the “Blast” page in the Gila Valley caused panic and disruption in our District. This was wrong, uncalled for, and in some cases, malicious.
Many people write and post things they would never dare say in person. It seems that some people think they are protected and anonymous as they post on social media. It is not so and it does not bring any good! We as a community cannot give in to social pressure and the ugly side of social media, if we do then we must ask ourselves what we are teaching our children. We are living during an interesting time. It seems that hostility and verbal assaults have become acceptable means of problem-solving with some people in our communities. We cannot allow this type of behavior to take the place of polite conversation, respect, and kindness.
Sometimes we just need to trust in one another…for some reason, it seems that we as a School District may need to do more to earn the trust of the parents and community and we will continue to work to gain that trust. Our students are our number one priority. We want them to know that and we will continue to do all we can to ensure they know it.
We want all students and parents in our school district to know that verified cases of threats or bullying will result in severe disciplinary consequences from the school and charges will be filed with law enforcement….we will not tolerate threats or bullying in any form! We will likewise take necessary action towards anyone bringing forth untrue or false accusations. The most severe consequences will be administered to protect our students.”
Brugman credited his detective and the school’s resource officer, Luke Arbizo, for cracking the case.
Brooke Curley contributed to this report.