Palmetto High student on Snapchat: ‘I want to be a school shooter’

When a 16-year-old Palmetto High School student saw a SnapChat post about shooting up his school with an AR-15, he responded by saying, “I want to be a school shooter,” according to the Palmetto Police Department.

Police and the school deemed the threat a hoax.

James A. Williams was arrested on Tuesday, however, and charged with a second-degree felony for making written threats to kill or commit a mass shooting, according to a probable cause affidavit. He was taken to the juvenile booking facility in Bradenton by police.

The threat posted on SnapChat on Monday referring to a shooting to take place at the high school the following day. Screenshots of the post were reported through FortifyFL, an app for reporting suspicious activity, and sent to Palmetto police directly. Detectives were quickly able to determine who the two SnapChat accounts belonged to and went to each boy’s home.

Detectives believe the first boy’s SnapChat was spoofed, according to police Chief Scott Tyler, so he is not facing charges. Williams was an acquaintance of the first boy, and when he responded to the SnapChat, he chatted with whoever spoofed the account.

Someone else who follows Williams on SnapChat messaged him, asking if he had seen the first boy’s SnapChat post about a shooting, according to the probable cause affidavit. Williams confirmed that he had, “and went on to tell her that he and the other student were school shooters and they were going to do it. “

When pressed further whether “he was really going to shoot the school,” Williams again said yes, according to police.

The families of both boys have been cooperative with police, according to Tyler. Palmetto police are working with investigators at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office with expertise in digital forensics in an attempt to try and trace the original SnapChat post.

“I’m very grateful to the community, people calling it in to Fortify and to us directly,” Tyler reiterated on Friday. “Often times in these situations people can embellish but this time people were very straightforward.”

Parents of Palmetto High students received a message from Principal Carl Auckerman on Friday evening, alerting them that they were working with local law enforcement to investigate possible threats against the school based on trips received through FortifyFL.

“We will have additional district and law enforcement presence on and around our campus until this investigation is complete. Once again our campus is safe this morning and our goal is to continue on with our school day,” Auckerman said in the message.

Details of the threat were not provided but parents were told they would receive “additional updates as warranted.”

Jessica De Leon has been covering crime, courts and law enforcement for the Bradenton Herald since 2013. She has won numerous awards for her coverage including the Florida Press Club’s Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting in 2016 for her coverage into the death of 11-year-old Janiya Thomas.