BROOKSVILLE – A joke that authorities say was definitely not funny has landed a Hernando County teen in custody on a charge of intimidating by making a threat to kill or injure.
The threat was directed at Central High School, which was the target of threats in March.
The Hernando Sheriff’s Office announced April 17 that the accused youth in the latest incident was taken first to the Hernando County Detention Center and later transferred to the Marion Regional Juvenile Detention Center, in Ocala. The youth was still in custody as of Tuesday afternoon, the Sheriff's Office said.
In what it termed “an abundance of caution,” the Sheriff’s Office deployed a “large team” of deputies to Central High early on the morning of April 17. “Nothing out of the ordinary” was found during the search, the Sheriff’s Office said.
In a news release, the Sheriff’s Office said it was alerted around 3:30 p.m. April 16 to an online threat of violence directed at Central High School. People playing an online trivia game called “Game Show” told authorities that someone post the message “I am going to set off an explosive at Central High School, spring hill florida tomorrow” on the game’s message screen. The screen name of the player who post the message was “Nidolabz,” deputies were told.
Deputies went to Central High School and conferred with administrators. Since they only had the screen name to go on, they turned to Peggy Brooks, manager of the Sheriff’s Office crime analysis unit. After extensive research, Brooks discovered a link between the Nidolabz screen name and a student at Springstead High School, in Spring Hill, according to the release.
Deputies who went to the student’s home searched the residence but found nothing out of the ordinary, the release said. The student, however, told deputies that one of his friends used the Nidolabz screen name.
The deputies then went to the friend’s house and the 16-year-old admitted to making the comment online but said it was only a “joke.” A search of the house also failed to uncover anything out of the ordinary, deputies.
The Hernando Sheriff’s Office was not the only agency aware of the online threat, it said. The FBI had learned of it through “internal intelligence gathering” and had contacted the Sheriff’s Office. The FBI was in the “preliminary stages of deploying manpower and electronic resources to Hernando County to assist in the investigation,” the Sheriff’s Office said. The FBI called off its response after learning a suspect was in custody.
In a statement, Sheriff Al Nienhuis said: “There is nothing funny — or cute — or cool — about threatening violence, regardless of the intention. Parents, teachers, and students need to have open and frank discussions. They need to talk about the foolishness and stupidity of mentioning such things as — bringing a gun to school or threatening to set off a bomb.
“Many young people do not understand the emotional and financial cost to the community of these intentionally false reports. Unfortunately, these criminal charges will also forever change the life of the suspect.
“The only effective deterrent will be positive peer pressure. Fellow students must, for example, talk about how idiotic and foolish it is to even consider making such statements, even when those statements are supposedly made as a cruel ‘joke.’ ”
In March, a 17-year-old Central High School junior was arrested in connection with six false bomb threats against the school.
While investigating the March threats, deputies were able to trace them to a mobile phone that was being used on the Central High campus.