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The high tension in the community was made worse by social media rumors swirling Wed & Thurs. The "mail piece mayhem" serves as an example of how incorrect information can have a significant negative impact if accuracy is not verified before it is spread.
Updated 3/2/2018, 6:15 PM: A previous version of this article included an incorrect statement that “the Bonneville County Prosecutor's office would make the final decision about whether criminal charges would be filed.” Correction: In most instances, if a crime alleges a misdemeanor or infraction (within the Idaho Falls City limits), the determination on whether prosecution is warranted would likely be made by the City of Idaho Falls Prosecutor's office (with some exceptions, for example, juvenile prosecutions). If the crime alleges a felony (inside or outside the city limits), the Bonneville County Prosecutor's office would likely make the determination on whether prosecution is warranted (also with some exceptions).
- A local woman in her eighties contacted police Friday morning and indicated she sent the card to raise political awareness of gun issues.She expressed great immense regret that it had the impact it did, which was not her intention.
- Some very serious false allegations were made on social media over the past two days which alleged violent events had occurred or were about to occur at local schools. Some of those posts went viral and amplified fear in the community.Police detectives are investigating those posts. If they determine crimes have been committed, they will fully prosecute them.
- The IFPD went to great lengths to ensure the safety of our youth, to urgently conduct a full investigation and to keep a consistent and accurate communication with the public, school officials and our media partners.
- In one media interview, Chief Bryce Johnson expressed that parents can talk to their kids to prepare them for a serious event and gave an example of the concept of: “Run. Hide. Fight.”
- Idaho Falls police are not recommending criminal charges at this time, but decisions made about whether charges would be filed would not be made by police. Final decisions about filing any potential misdemeanor charges would be made by the City of Idaho Falls Prosecutor's office.
Here's a full description of the incidents which led to the mail piece mayhem this week:
The postcard: Friday morning, an Idaho Falls woman in her late eighties notified police that she was the sender of the “suspicious postcard” which sparked concern and fear across the community this week. Parents were notified late Wednesday, February 28th by the Idaho Falls School District 91 via email of a "suspicious postcard" a D91 parent received in the mail.” School district officials wrote, “The postcard included a vague reference to a weapon at a school." Hundreds of concerned residents questioned whether they should send their children to school and some decided to keep their children at home as a precaution.
The postcard given to police by the local parent had a stock image of an assault rifle along with the phrase, “Coming to a school Near you?” Despite many media posts alleging the contrary, there were no safety incidents on Thursday at any local schools in Idaho Falls.
A woman in her late eighties contacted police on Friday and took responsibility for sending the postcard. Police met with the woman Friday morning, who said the intent of sending the card was to wake up the community to the threat of gun violence in schools. She said she had no ill intentions and expressed immense regret that the postcard may have made children fearful to go to school.
The woman told police that she sent out four postcards in total, using the white pages to locate addresses in local neighborhoods which may have a high number of young children. The other three postcards have not been reported to police as of Friday morning, but the woman provided the addresses to police of where she mailed them. The woman has participated in political activism for many years. She noted that social media has changed the way communication spreads (quickly) and expressed deep anguish that the mail piece created emotional mayhem instead of thoughtful pause.
“We are grateful this woman came to us to tell us the intent and that she displayed care and concern for the children in our community,” said Officer Brian Smith, the lead officer in the case.“We hope that her honesty and courage in coming forward to rectify the situation will put an end to the panic which has been widespread in our community.
False social media posts went viral: Much of the panic was amplified by some community members who started rumors on social media of very serious false allegations of violent incidents occurring (or alleging they were about to occur) around the city. Some posts were shared hundreds of times and amplified the feelings of worry and fear.
False allegations could be a crime: Police are still investigating some of those very serious posts. “If detectives conclude that any crimes have been committed based on these false allegations, they will be fully prosecuted,” said Detective Sergeant John Marley. “We hope that people will call police to verify a threat rather than posting it on social media, which becomes an additional problem.”
The incident serves as an example of how spreading information which may not be correct can have a significant negative impact on the community. It was compared to screaming “fire” in a crowded movie theater.
Posting false information is part of the problem, not the solution. Thursday evening, Idaho Falls Police Chief Bryce Johnson spoke with reporter Tristan Lewis of KIFI Channel 8 / KIDK Channel 3 and cautioned the public about the spread of false information. When asked about a particular social media rumor about an active shooter at a local school, Johnson replied, “That is not true. There is no active shooter… There was a postcard sent… we’ve looked at it and we can’t find any specific threat to anybody… we have no specific information about any threat or any school here in Idaho Falls. And when people put on Facebook that there is [a threat], they’re part of the problem, not the solution. That causes panic, it causes anxiety and we can’t put our resources toward what’s actually happening. So we would just ask folks to not spread rumors, to not say things that are not occurring. The correct information was put out by the police department and by the school district.” Police urge the public to call Idaho Falls public safety dispatch to verify any rumors of threats before taking to social media to spread them.
What can parents do to prepare their kids in case there is ever a shooter? The Chief also sat down with Rett Nelson of EastIdahoNews.com and gave an example of the concept of “Run. Hide. Fight.”
Johnson explained, “I sat down with my daughter and talked specifically about school shootings. You know, ‘What are you going to do?’
• The first thing you do is you get yourself away. Run away from there. Get as many people away as you can.
• If you can’t do that, hide. Make sure you hide where they are never going to find you.
• If they do find you, you don’t keep hiding, you fight with everything you’ve got because their purpose there is to kill as many people as possible.”
Youth safety, communication and urgency were high priorities for IFPD: Upon receiving the postcard on Wednesday, The IFPD promptly began a full investigation. Officers worked with the United States Postal Service to determine area from which the postcard was mailed and utilized other investigation resources.
The department also took extra steps to ensure the safety of our community’s youth. Officer Brian Smith spends the majority of his time working inside our community’s schools as a school resource officer. In addition to the department’s efforts to communicate with the public and our media partners, Officer Smith also ensured there was an open, consistent line of communication with school officials. “I’ve got the school district on the phone too, speaking with them so they all have the latest information,” he said. While security of our community’s students is always Officer Smith’s priority, his level of attention increased in light of the postcard and parents’ concerns. “I’ve made it clear that I don’t plan to leave the school today or tomorrow and I’m making myself available and will be generally be close to the front door just in case there’s something,” said Officer Smith. He made himself available and visible to let the community know that he and other officers were present at schools to keep students safe.
The community took notice of the police department’s efforts. One parent wrote on the Idaho Falls Police Department’s Facebook page:
“I appreciate the IFPD working with our schools to make sure that our students are safe. As a parent, I was very pleased to see an officer at the front of the school when I dropped off my high school students this morning. I am not happy this incident is occurring, but relieved that these precautions are being implemented.”