published Friday, March 8th, 2013

Soddy-Daisy police probe Web threats against pupils

Screenshot of Instagram account "the__unknown___" where a "hit list" of Soddy Daisy Middle School students is posted.
Screenshot of Instagram account "the__unknown___" where a "hit list" of Soddy Daisy Middle School students is posted.

Soddy-Daisy Middle School students received messages on their cellphones Wednesday night in simple, direct images. The background was black, the text white. Nothing else needed.

"I will take Her life," one message read. "Wait a week. And you will see."

"She's going to die."


Someone posted those messages -- and several more -- on Instagram, a popular social media site for sharing pictures. As of Thursday night, Soddy-Daisy police had not identified who sent the messages, or whether multiple people were involved.

Principal Blake Freeman said some of his middle school students were the targets, though he would not say how many children were threatened specifically.

Detectives are working with Instagram and Internet service providers to try to pinpoint where the messages originated.

On Thursday, officers seized computers and cellphones that Soddy-Daisy police Chief Phil Hambrick said are connected to the case.

Hambrick did not clarify who owned the computers or whether they belonged to adults, teachers or students. But one of the messages suggested that its sender is enrolled at the school.

"Those are just people who go to SDMS that is in the 8th grade with me," someone wrote.

People normally use the site to share pictures, not words. But through an app called Overgram, users can post text messages on top of an image -- in this case, a plain black background.

Since the December school massacre in Newtown, Conn., police have assigned officers to each school in Soddy-Daisy. On Thursday, Hambrick brought in extra protection.

Freeman insisted his school is a safe place, that parents can breathe easily when they drop their children off each day. And on Thursday, school administrators and staff were available for any students who felt uneasy.

"I have gone down to their class personally and sat and listened to them and answered any questions and been able to calm any anxiety that they may have," Freeman said.

Betty Stallard's granddaughter was one of the students threatened. The unknown user copied the girl's Facebook picture and posted it on Instagram.

The girl wanted to leave home Thursday, Stallard said, and she wasn't alone.

"We need a zero tolerance on these kind of threats," Stallard said. "This sleepy little community doesn't need to become the next spotlight for a bunch of kids killed in school."

She said bullying has infected Soddy-Daisy's students, and according to one of the messages, an end doesn't appear near.

"This isn't over Soddy-Daisy Middle."

Staff writer Tyler Jett contributed to this report.

about Lindsay Burkholder...

Lindsay Burkholder is originally from Winston-Salem, N.C. She graduated from Covenant College in May 2012 with a bachelor's degree in English. While at Covenant she spent time writing for and editing the news section of the school newspaper, The Bagpipe. Burkholder also attended the World Journalism Institute in New York City in 2011.

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