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West Chester East student charged with making death threats to minority students

It was not a hate crime, police say. The boy who posted the threats is black.

West Chester East High School.
West Chester East High School.Read moreWikimedia Commons/RowEpict

The online posts — the death threats, the racial slurs — weren't a hate crime.

They were hateful, yes, and ugly, but West Goshen Township police said the posts — one of which mentioned three black students and said, "If you guys come to school tomorrow, you will die" — were not motivated by racial prejudice.

A 14-year-old fellow West Chester East student was charged Tuesday with harassment, cyber bullying, and terroristic threats, but not with a hate crime. The boy who made the posts is black.

"This was not a white-black thing," Superintendent Jim Scanlon said. But "this is not acceptable for anyone to do regardless of their race."

Sunday evening, photographs of several students were posted on the "East Shade Room" Instagram page. One post read: "I feel bad for y'all. Because y'all think it's a joke. Each and everyone on [sic] those n—s will be killed tomorrow."

Several of the targeted teenagers spoke at a community meeting Monday night.

"They were just talking down on people, calling blacks n—s, calling Puerto Ricans 'dirty Mexicans,'" one student told the crowded auditorium. "I felt that was disrespectful, because we don't do nothing to nobody."

He said one of the posts was a photograph of him and a friend before a school dance with the caption, "Aw, black n— meets white cracker."

The student now charged with making those posts — who is not being named because he is a minor — was identified through subpoenas of Verizon and Instagram, Scanlon said. By 2 p.m. Monday, he had been pulled from class to be interviewed by authorities.

Scanlon said the student would also face disciplinary measures from the school. The boy was not in school Tuesday, he said, and others can "rest assured they won't see him" in the coming days.

But several parents said they were concerned by the school's response. Some said they wished they had been notified in the morning with phone calls giving parents the option to keep children home. Others said students' concerns were "brushed off" and "dismissed" by the administration.

"Because they are minority students, the school district does not want to say, 'We have a problem,'" Dayna Spence said, echoing the sentiments of several other parents who said they believe school officials do not value the concerns of minority students.

Scanlon responded, "I know they're speaking from emotion. I do not know what it's like to be African American, because I'm not. My lens is from a 6-foot-2 white man. But I work very hard for cultural diversity and to eliminate racism."

Scanlon said the district acted appropriately from the time he was alerted to the threats around 6 a.m.

Neither police nor the district thought the posts posed a threat, because the page was taken down and because violent individuals typically don't post warnings on social media, Scanlon said.

Scanlon said he would have made calls had there been an "immediate threat," but instead sent email updates around 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

On Monday, additional police were called to school, Scanlon said, and 40 students were interviewed about the incident.

The posts continued to reverberate Tuesday. One student, who learned Sunday night that she had been targeted in a post calling her "transsexual," said she took off Monday and Tuesday to regroup. She planned to go back Wednesday.

She said she and her friends had been texting about their anxiety about returning, regardless of whether the person responsible is there.

"It's still nerve-wracking," she said. "I feel like we're going to get dirty looks."

The student said this incident was far from the first time she has been concerned for her well-being.

"I've never felt safe at school," she said. "The only time I feel safe is when I'm in that room with BSU" (Black Student Union).

She said that during her freshman year, someone posted a picture on social media of a chocolate milk carton that had a stick-figure drawing of a lynching on it. The caption read, "Happy Black History Month," the student recalled.

Scanlon said the person responsible in that incident was punished "the severest amount we could."

And last year, the day after the election, a group of minority students had batteries and bottles thrown at them in the hallway, as fellow students yelled "Go back to Mexico" and "Go back to Africa," according to students.

In response, students said the administration took the affected students — mostly minorities — to a "safe room" where they could discuss their feelings. But the room had a window, they said, and the students were subjected to further taunting.

Scanlon said he did not recall the specifics of that incident, but said all reported incidents are investigated.

The student said she would like to see a school-wide assembly in which minority students can discuss their experiences.

"Nobody talks about racist issues outside of BSU," she said. This incident "is an ugly thing. But we are used to it at this point. It's sad because we are used to it."

Scanlon said the district talks about racial issues often and has equity teams and cultural teams devoted to inclusion. He said he plans to meet with students and have further conversations about race in coming days.

In the West Chester Area School District, the student population is about 79 percent Caucasian, 8 percent Asian, 7 percent Hispanic, 5 percent African American, and 1 percent multiracial, according to its website.

Staff writers Valerie Russ and Michaelle Bond contributed to this article.