Sheriff won’t charge teens who discussed ‘lynching’ classmate because purpose was ‘not to threaten’
Authorities in Virginia say they don’t have enough evidence to charge six teens with threatening to kill a classmate despite screen shots of a group chat about “lynching” the student.
A Liberty High School administrator contacted the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 2 about the threats, which were made on the Discord gaming app, reported WUSA-TV.
One of the six students involved in the chat, which they called “Operation Will To Kill,” shared screen shots of the conversation with the student being threatened, and on Monday he alerted school officials.
They sent out an email to parents after a parent posted screen shots of the discussion two days later on Facebook.
The students warned their classmate had only one month to live, and they shared a photo of a military-style rifle during the discussion and one student mentioned “lynching” the boy.
“He has a month to live and everytime (sic) he does something that pisses us off we take off a day,” one student wrote.
All six students were 16 or 17 years old, and it’s not clear from news reports what race they are or the student they threatened. More than 80 percent of Fauquier County residents are white, and fewer than 10 percent are black.
The Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office announced Friday that none of the teens would be charged in the case, because they said the boy who shared screen shots of the chat had not meant to threaten his classmate.
“The purpose was not to threaten or intimidate this student but rather to inform this student what the others were saying behind his back,” the sheriff’s office said.
Time stamps on the chats suggest all the comments were made off-campus, and had been intended to be private, investigators said.
“The law criminalizing threats of death or bodily injury does not require that threats of this nature be communicated directly to the intended recipient,” authorities said. “However, the law does require proof that the accused intended to make and communicate the threat and that the threat was made and communicated.”
The sheriff’s office suggested the privately communicated threats were protected by free speech rights.
“Although there are comments in the chat about killing, these comments were not directed to the other student and were not posted in a public forum where the student would have likely seen them,” authorities said. “There is no evidence the participants in this conversation intended to communicate a threat directly or indirectly to the student, and the student was not invited into the chat. There is no evidence to suggest the participants contemplated the statements being passed on to the other student. The comments are disturbing and highly inappropriate; however, they do not constitute a criminal violation of the law.”
The chat participants accused their classmate of planning to “shoot up the school” and keeping a “school shooter list,” but the sheriff’s office found no evidence of that plan or list.