School shooting threat raises SRO security question


Samantha Wu

Sophomore Raha Murtuza reads the recent school shooting threat on her phone.

An online school shooting threat named 14 specific students at RM in February. The threat, which was originally seen on Omegle and then circulated around social media platforms like Instagram, claimed that the writer would shoot up RM in “a few weeks”, though a date was never specified. School and county administration investigated the threat, then sent emails and announcements to students and parents.

Upon investigation by school administrators, MCPS security officers, Central Office staff and Rockville police, multiple bot-like elements of the threat led officials to consider it non-credible. In terms of content, the wording appeared to be identical to similar threats that have emerged in other counties this year. 

Of the students named in the threat, there was a mix of full names, first names and Instagram handles, with no specific ordering or capitalizations. Upon closer inspection, all 14 students had public Instagram accounts with profiles and geotags linking them to Richard Montgomery, and so could have been generated through random online searches. This led investigators to believe that the students named had no real link to the threat.

“The same copy and pasted message with different names and different schools has been sent across the country and other MCPS schools, like I see it all the time so it’s become less and less of a big deal,“ one of the students named in the threat, sophomore Sami Saeed, said.

In addition, investigators concluded that the message originated from outside of Maryland. “It wasn’t even inside the state, which throws me. Overall it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been,” junior Thomas Domorad said. 

The shooter promised to livestream the event on Instagram while blasting music, and stated that they would not give up to the police. But the Instagram account that the shooter mentioned was a private account, and its bio was changed to clarify that the account’s actual user did not use Omegle and was not associated with the threats.

When I first saw it, it was like someone sent it to me, and I was like.. yo that’s crazy,” Saeed said. “I didn’t really get scared immediately, I actually thought it was kind of shocking at the beginning that my name was in something. Cause I’d never [seen] something like that before, so I posted it on my [Instagram] story. It didn’t really sink in, you know?

I heard it from my sister because she’s on social media a lot more than me,” Domorad said. 

In response to the threat, RM administration made an announcement and sent out a schoolwide email. “I actually think the school’s response has been really good, they reached out to all the parents and students, they had police officers come in ajnd they had us meet the police officers so we could feel more personally protected,” Saeed said.

Despite the announcement, many students stayed home out of fear. I know some people I saw at school who were like ‘I’m really scared, I want to go to the counselor,” Saeed, who missed after school activities due to the threat, said. “But also I know people who didn’t care, they just used it as an excuse to stay home from school or wanted to leave early.” “Of course I came to school, but a lot of people didn’t,” Domorad said.

These students were given excused absences by RM, bringing up questions about security and changing school policies in an era where threats have become increasingly frequent. “Much of the adjustments [we’ve] made have had a lot of lack of flexibility in the past, like excused absences, and we’ve learned to navigate new circumstances,” MCPS Superintendent, Dr. Monifa McKnight said. “We have be very thoughtful about what we consider absences, especially when a tragic event happens in a school and we want to honor student wellness.”

In other cases, like the shooting at Magruder in February, extreme circumstances were recognized with a flexible schedule and extended deadlines for the second quarter. “The word flexibility has become really key,”  Dr. McKnight said. “If we have a rule or guideline we’ve followed for the last 50-100 tears in education, that doesn’t really follow a modern day situation.”

I think that in the particular case of this threat, the reason was nothing more than someone wanting to see a headline on the news,” Saeed said. “The way they went about it with the constant copying and pasting, it might not even be a person, and they just wanted to stir something up.”

I think it’s a big problem with social media that people think they are free to make threats and say whatever they want,” Domorad said. “People feel a lot more confident, bad confidence, because they’re not talking to real people and they can be anonymous.”

The shooter promised to use a MP 15 Assault rifle and a Glock 17 pistol with hundreds of rounds of ammunition. The Glock 17, or G17 pistol, is one of the best selling civilian handguns in the country, while the M&P15 is classified as an assault long gun and is restricted to military and police. While both firearms are restricted or illegal in the state of Maryland, according to Maryland Shooters community forums on gun legislation, those restrictions could be bypassed through firearm clones or kits to rebuild them.

The practice of purchasing kits to assemble weapons at home has led to the rise of less traceable “ghost guns,” which was the weapon used at Magruder. “The safety piece became very real when we came out of the pandemic, and unfortunately, ghost guns were a perfect example of how things were more accessible to students, and became risks,” Dr. McKnight said.

There has been a major increase in gun violence within schools, with nearly 2000 school shooting incidents in the past five decades, according to data from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. With 249 incidents, 2021 was the most violent year to date, despite many school systems remaining virtual at the start of the year as they came out of pandemic procedures. “When you look at school shootings in general, they basically didn’t exist until Columbine happened in 1999 and now with Sandy Hook and things that are more recent, it feels like school shootings and threats have skyrocketed in numbers,Saeed said. “ It happens so much that it’s kind of sad that I wasn’t that afraid,” Domorad said.

Recent events at Magruder catalyzed local movements for gun control, prompting the introduction of a new bill banning ghost guns in the state. Simultaneously, the events at RM have reignited discussions about the role of School Resources Officers, or SROs, within the schools. These officers were eliminated from buildings last year under criticism of racial disparities in targeting and enforcement, and replaced with “Community Engagement Officers,” or CEOs. On March 15, a panel of local and state education officials and officers met in Rockville to discuss SROs and school safety. 

School security were troubled by the recent uptick in violence- both gun related incidents and more traditional school fistfights- that has followed the pandemics and removal of SROs. “In terms of personnel, I think we could use all the support we can get,” school security officer Anthony Woods said. “When we did have SROs in the building, we all felt a little bit better about how things were, and a little bit more secure.”

Every time we have an incident, one that we celebrate or one that shakes our community to the core… the training around safety and security is what has been key,Dr. McKnight said. “When SROs were removed from schools it’s because they were no longer funded. In terms of SROs and CEOs, just like education, we have to evolve over time to meet the needs of what’s currently happening.” 

A lot of students clearly have their mental health in terrible shape because of all these threats and I think Montgomery County in general should be doing more to accommodate this,Saeed said. “We want to reconcile our students and safety. And one shouldn’t supersede the other,” Dr. McKnight said. “We gotta learn from what works and what doesn’t work. No matter what program we have, SROs, CEOs, this is what we’re always gonna do.”

Some students expressed that they would have preferred a larger response on the county level, rather than leaving threat de-escalation and management up to individual schools.

“We got another [threat] like two months ago, another one before that, so I didn’t treat it as a big deal. I treated the first one as a big deal, but that was a while ago,” Domorad said.

It’s just a bad situation because the one day that you know, the school chooses not to react to it because there’s so many of them, it could actually be a real threat,” Saeed said.