Snapchat image sparks investigation

An investigation at Wilton High School has been underway since a student informed administrators the morning of Thursday, Oct. 5, that an image of a gun with the message “get ready to have some fun” had been posted to Snapchat.

Snapchat is an image messaging and multimedia application through which users can post a picture or short video, known as a “Snap,” to one or more of their friends.

The high school’s incident response team — comprised of “the entire administrative team,” Safe School Climate Coordinator Kim Zemo and School Resource Officer Richard Ross — got to work investigating as soon as they heard about the post, Principal Robert O’Donnell told The Bulletin on Friday, Oct. 6.

Because it was social media-related, O’Donnell said, the district’s technology department was also immediately involved, “including a consultant who was here.”

O’Donnell said one of the first things he also did was pull out his emergency operations manual.

“I was fully prepared, if needed, to invoke the Incident Command Structure,” he said.

The district’s Incident Command Structure — also known as ICS — is comprised of trained and tested staff members who have completed at least two Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) courses, including Multi-Hazard Emergency Planning for Schools, which covers “basic information about developing, implementing and maintaining a school emergency operations plan,” according to FEMA’s website.

After learning of the Snap, O’Donnell said, the incident response team used Google’s search-by-image feature and determined that the photo of the gun was a stock photo.

“In looking at the screenshot of the image, it did not look like an image that someone had actually photographed [his or herself]. It looked a little bit off,” said O’Donnell.

“We looked at it and said, ‘You know what? Let’s see where this is from,’ and we found it very quickly on Google Images — the exact same image.”

The posting contained “no direct threats” and the school was aware of only one student who actually saw the post, O’Donnell wrote in an Oct. 5 letter to the Wilton High School community.

O’Donnell would not comment on whether the student who reported the post said if the image was sent only sent to him or her or if it was shared with others on Snapchat.

Some residents have questioned why the high school didn’t go into lockdown that day.

In his letter, O’Donnell wrote that “based on the facts at our disposal, and in consultation with the police,” the school determined that “instruction and school business could continue without interruption” as the situation was closely monitored.

O’Donnell told The Bulletin he “firmly” believes the right decision was made.

“When you’re in a position that you have all the information at hand and you have the right people assembled to make the informed decision based on information that you have, that is what you do,” he said.

Wilton police were “prepared to respond in any way necessary,” O’Donnell wrote in his Oct. 5 letter, and “the building’s outer perimeter remained secure.”

There was “no reason to believe” that the school “faced a credible threat,” said O’Donnell.

O’Donnell told The Bulletin the identity of the person who posted the image is still unknown.

“It’s an ongoing investigation and an ongoing matter,” he said.

O’Donnell said administrators are conducting interviews at the school and working closely with the Wilton Police Department, which is “in direct communication with Snapchat,” trying to obtain any discoverable facts about the creator of the post.

“Our intention is to determine exactly where it originated,” he said. “I’d like to catch the person and then take the appropriate measures.”

O’Donnell said right now, it’s “an ongoing investigation and an ongoing matter,” but he will update the community on “any significant developments or breakthroughs.”

If found, Wilton police said, the person who posted the image would be charged with the felony of falsely reporting an incident of harm.

Feature image courtesy of Max Pixel