By Tia Lynn Ivey
Racist and violent threats among Morgan County High School students were discovered in a private social media chat group and then posted publicly on Facebook last week, sparking outrage from the local community as screenshots from the conversation were shared over 115 times by angry parents and concerned citizens. The incident led to more allegations throughout last week, as at least three parents called the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office to report rumors circulating Morgan County High School, alleging students were claiming to have guns and knives at school. The Morgan County Sheriff’s Office responded to the calls and went to the high school, but could not verify the claims.
“We have been in constant contact with the school resource officer and in constant contact with the school superintendent. We have been out there and right now, it’s business as usual and calm,” said Keith Howard, chief deputy for the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office.
It all began with a social media group conversation filled with racism, political anger, and appeals to violence from at least four Morgan County High School boys. The screenshots from that conversation went viral yesterday. The incident has prompted school officials to intervene with disciplinary measures and local law enforcement to investigate, but as of now, no arrests have been made and it doesn’t look like any of the four juvenile students involved will be charged with a crime based on the evidence so far. However, the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office pledged to continue the investigation.
In a group chat conversation called “Biden can suck our [expletive]” on Snapchat, the boys railed against the ongoing presidential election while using racial slurs. Some of the boys threatened to lash out violently against black people if Pennsylvania “turns blue” and Democrat Joe Biden wins the election.
“If Pennsylvania flips we gonna have second civil war,” wrote one student. Another replied, “We gonna blow the black off them [N-word].” The N-word and other racist language is used repeatedly in the thread. When one student writes “There is going to be a civil war anyways,” another student responds with, “Well, let’s f— some [N-word]s then.”
In another group chat, a student writes “Black people starting to act like Germans if a mf [N-word] tell me to get on a train, imma cap they a–.”
The private group chat leaked among fellow MCHS students and parents, leading to Holly Thurmond posting the screenshots publicly on Facebook, denouncing the students and calling for the school system and community to take action. While local law enforcement is still investigating the matter, along with new alleged rumors of threats circulating the high school, the screenshots alone are not enough to warrant an arrest, according to local law enforcement agents and prosecutors.
Ocmulgee Judicial District Attorney Stephen Bradley denounced the boys’ language but declared the messages do not rise to a criminal offense.
“Every threat of physical violence we take seriously,” said Bradley, who noted the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office reached out to DA’s office over the incident. “No matter how horrifying or atrocious the language, it’s not a crime unless it threatens a crime or suggests the death of another person and then it’s got to be communicated to them for the purpose of harassment or terroristic threats. Obviously it is so horrible that no one can support it. However, that does not make it a prosecutable crime.”
“The messages by themselves did not seem to meet the criteria for a hate crime or terroristic threats,” said Howard. “We would not feel comfortable at this point moving forward with an arrest. However, we are still investigating and if we find more evidence, that could change.”
While the boys have not been charged criminally yet, the school system is taking action, promising “significant consequences” for the students involved. The boys have been barred from returning to school grounds while the disciplinary process moves forward, according to Dr. Virgil Cole, superintendent of Morgan County Schools.
“It is a shame and extremely disappointing that something that occurred off campus with a few students reflects so poorly on our system and community and has such a negative impact on the school,” said Cole. “This incident is certainly not representative of our school system or our students, and it will not be tolerated. Rest assured, this is something we take very seriously and will work through the appropriate process to discipline accordingly. Unfortunately, this serves as another reminder of the pitfalls of social media. We appreciate those that brought this to our attention, and we urge parents to carefully monitor their child’s social media use.”
As word is currently spreading on social media that criminal charges will most likely not be an option at this point, community members are decrying a double-standard. Back in March of 2018, a Morgan County High School senior was arrested and charged with “terroristic threats” after she sent a text message to herself and six other students at the high school that read, “If you at school leave,” and was followed by a green gun emoji.
Dozens of community members on Facebook are questioning why a young African-American student was expelled, arrested and charged with terroristic threats, but these white students will not face legal repercussions as of yet.
LaChrislyn Lee Goss, spoke with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office about the incident and is upset that legal actions may not be taken.
“I am deeply concerned for the safety of the students of color and actions need to be taken. We must not be reactive but proactive,” she wrote on her Facebook Wednesday.
Howard said the investigation has been fair and the law will be applied equally.
“We will treat this like we would any other case,” said Howard. “We will continue to investigate and apply the criminal code where it is warranted.”
The screenshots from the group chat were first posted by Holly Thurmond, who denounced the boys and called on Morgan County to address this incident.
“This is so rare for me BUT this is unacceptable and needs to be addressed ASAP. I, for one, will not tolerate this from an adult or a teenager. “One Morgan” better sit back down at the round table before we use this hashtag. Some lessons have to be learned the hard way,” wrote Thurmond on Facebook, posting screenshots of the conversation.
That post initially garnered nearly 200 comments and was shared more than 115 times on Facebook in less than two days.
In a subsequent post, Thurmond stood by posting the screenshot and outing the names of the Morgan County High School students in the group chat.
“I will not apologize for calling out an issue that gets swept under the rug in our community time and time again. If you don’t address the problem, you become the problem!” wrote Thurmond on Facebook. She urged local citizens to join a class offered by the Madison Presbyterian Church addressing racism.
Community members are also in the process of orchestrating a public meeting to address the matter. This is a developing story. The Morgan County Citizen will update this story as new details emerge.