SUSSEX, Wis. — A dangerous trend that started on TikTok is causing real problems for school, law enforcement and parents around southeast Wisconsin. Rumors of violence at schools started on the social media site and spiraled out of control.
“Thankfully I've not heard that we've had issues here, although law enforcement has been aware of them and is prepared, if necessary,” said Joel Urmanski, the Sheboygan County District Attorney.
Out of an abundance of caution, law enforcement stepped up patrols around some schools, and some parents kept their kids home. The Racine Unified School District said there were 2,900 absences in the district, or 35% of students. That is more than double the amount of normal absences.
The head of the school psychology program for University of Wisconsin River Falls, Scott Woitaszewski, says school threats in general tend to follow each other.
“We do know there appears to be a contagion effect in some cases, when an act of violence such as the Michigan school shooting a few weeks ago, when something like that happens, there tends to be more threats that follow that,” Woitaszewski said.
He says although most threats are not credible, that can be the way a student having issues asks for help.
“Sometimes a threat is a last-ditch effort to have somebody recognize me. Have somebody understand what I'm going through, even if it seems illogical. It's a way of lashing out and perhaps maybe gaining someone's attention,” said Woitaszewski.
However, the Sheboygan County District Attorney's Office warns there can be real-world consequences in making that threat or sharing it.
He says the lowest charge could be disorderly conduct, which might mean jail time if the person convicted is a minor or an adult.
“Everyone needs to remember that at 17 you're considered an adult,” said Urmanski.
The most serious is the charge of making terrorist threats, which is a Class I felony. He says even if you are convicted as a juvenile of that crime, you can lose your ability to own a gun for the rest of your life.
“There's a lot of ramifications that can come, and oftentimes people are just watching TikTok and they think it's cool or think it's funny and they don't realize,” said Urmanski.
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