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Threat, social media rumors fuel rash of absences PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 01 November 2017 18:15


More than 100 Port High students stay home last week even after student arrested, Snapchat posts discredited

    A confusing threat made by a Port Washington High School student on Snapchat and a social media-fueled rumor mill are being blamed for what officials called a “mild hysteria” that resulted in a rash of student absences last week.
    Principal Eric Burke said more than 100 students were absent from Port High on Friday, Oct. 27 — days after the 19-year-old accused of making the threats was arrested and barred from Port High and despite the fact authorities and school officials made it clear to students and parents they didn’t believe the threats were credible.
    “He was locked up by late Tuesday afternoon, but the drama got drawn out by students using social media to spread rumors,” Capt. Michael Keller of the Port Washington Police Department said.
    Keller said officers interviewed some of the students who were posting comments about the threats on social media.
    “They admitted they didn’t know what they were talking about,” he said.
    “A lot this was caused by students using social media, which got parents worked up, and all of a sudden we had a bit of mild hysteria on our hands.”
    The student accused of making the threats, Jamair D. Ungewitter of Port Washington, was arrested Tuesday, Oct. 24, and charged the following day in Ozaukee County Circuit Court with sending threatening computer messages, a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum 90 days in jail.
    The threats came to light Monday, Oct. 23, when several students told Burke that an unknown person had created an account on Snapchat, the popular social media app that displays messages and photos for short periods of time before they disappear, under the name Mr. Yeah. The students took screenshots of the posts, which Burke described as “inappropriate and obscene.”
    In one Snapchat exchange with Mr. Yeah, who was later identified as Ungewitter, a student posted, “You literally sound like the type of person to shoot up a school,” according to the criminal complaint.
    Ungewitter responded, “I’m going to kill myself Friday night at 11:59 p.m. and the auditorium. I will before I die.”
    Keller said he believes the “and” in the post was a typo, and that Ungewitter meant to write, “I’m going to kill myself Friday night at the auditorium.”
    When the student exchanging posts with Ungewitter wrote, “That sounds like a threat,” Ungewitter responded, “It is,” the complaint states.
    Burke, who said his primary concern was the suicide threat and the fact that no one knew who Mr. Yeah was at the time, reported the Snapchat posts to police Monday afternoon.
    Officers used Snapchat account and internet service provider records to track the Snapchat account to Ungewitter, who was absent Monday but in school Tuesday, Keller said. Authorities confronted him at his house Tuesday afternoon.
    “He denied any knowledge of the incident,” Keller said.
    Authorities quickly determined the threats were not legitimate, Burke said.
    “The police department doesn’t believe the threats made were credible,” he said. “And based on the police investigation, it’s my judgment there was not a real threat of suicide.
    “It was a student being inappropriate with social media.”
    On Wednesday afternoon, the police department issued a press release followed shortly by an email from Burke to parents explaining the situation and informing them Ungewitter had been arrested and was being held in jail.
    But rumors spread like wildfire on social media, and by Thursday Burke was scrambling to address false claims. In a second email, he informed parents that rumors claiming police had arrested the wrong person and the student who made the threats was still on the loose were false, and in response to rumors about the content of the threats he wrote, “There were no threats to students or our school.”
    Keller said a number of parents wanted reassurances from him that it was safe to send their children to school.
    “I had parents contact me at home and ask, ‘Can you assure me nothing will happen at school on Friday?’
    “I think some kids blew this out of proportion, maybe with the idea of a three-day weekend in mind.”
    Burke said he, too, fielded a number of calls and emails from concerned parents.
    “I realize this is a scary thing for parents,” he said, adding that his two children, both Port High students, were in school last week.    
    Ungewitter was held in the county jail until Thursday, Oct. 26, Keller said. Ozaukee Circuit Judge Sandy Williams released him in lieu of a $1,000 signature bond and ordered him not to possess or use a cell phone or laptop computer and not to have contact with any public school in Ozaukee County, specifically Port High, unless he is readmitted after he serves his suspension.
    Burke said other arrangements will be made for Ungewitter.
    “We still have to educate him, just not here,” he said.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 November 2017 18:19