An 11-year-old New Jersey boy was arrested by authorities on Jan. 26 for allegedly using social media to threat violence at Key Largo School. The boy, who wasn’t identified, faces a second-degree felony for sending a threat to kill or harm another person. 

The incident happened on Jan. 3, one day before students, teachers and staff returned to the classroom following a two-week holiday break. Students arriving by bus and bike and parents who drove their children to Key Largo School, and other Keys schools, noticed a heavier police presence. The move by Sheriff Rick Ramsay was made to ensure the safety of everyone returning to their work and studies. 

From there, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and Monroe County State Attorney’s Office worked with New Jersey authorities to identify the source of the threat. An arrest warrant was issued on Jan. 4 for the New Jersey boy. By Jan. 26, the boy was in custody. 

“I want to thank my staff, our partners at the Monroe County School District and State Attorney’s Office as well as officials in New Jersey for resolving this case quickly,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay. “I take these threats very seriously and protecting our children is my highest priority.” 

Monroe County prosecutors are working to extradite the boy to answer the charge in court. According to the Miami Herald, the boy’s mother is fighting the extradition. Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward told the Keys Weekly in early January that social media threats made against schools are “one of the most serious threats we have in these times.”

“Sheriff Ramsay and I take these threats very, very seriously, and people need to understand that we don’t care who you are and what age, if you make a threat against our schools, we’ll do whatever it takes to assure the safety of our children, teachers and school staff,” Ward said. 

Threatening a school on social media could carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. According to the FBI, a threat is any communication of intent to commit an act of violence. A threat can be written, spoken or symbolic. This includes comments that imply or directly state intention to use guns, weapons or any other means to cause harm at a public school, even if the statement is a joke or prank. 

It’s not the first time a Keys school received a threat through social media. Last May, Coral Shores students reported to staff that rumors of violence were circulating via social media. Few students were in attendance when school began on May 13. School and law enforcement officials said the threat was unsubstantiated. Another threat was reported roughly a week later as seniors were preparing for a parade to mark the end to their high school careers. 

Similar threats have increased in the U.S., as more kids gained access to phones and social media channels such as Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram. In December 2021, schools across the nation were on high alert after threats were issued from TikTok. What made it more concerning was that specific schools weren’t named. As a result, some schools kept kids out of classrooms, while others had students under lockdown. 

According to Pew Research Center, more than 90% of teens report going online daily. And 71% of teenagers scroll through more than one social networking site

Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.