Utah police officers encourage reporting threatening social media posts amid Texas school shooting

The BYU Emergency Medical Services respond to a mock “armed mass shooting” at the abandoned Provo High School for their mass casualty incident training. Training BYU’s EMTs to respond to situations like an armed mass shooting is part of BYU Police’s school safety protocol. (BYU Emergency Medical Services)

Utah police officers and school safety officials are emphasizing the importance of monitoring and investigating social media platforms and encouraging students to report threatening posts, amid the Uvalde, Texas school shooting earlier this week.

The attack at Robb Elementary School was performed by an 18-year-old gunman, Salvador Ramos, who reportedly killed 21 people including 19 children and two adults.

On Wednesday May 26, Gov. Gregg Abbott of Texas said Ramos posted on Facebook 30 minutes before arriving at the school. According to Abbott, the gunman posted he had shot his grandmother and was going to shoot people at the elementary school. However, a Facebook spokesman tweeted a response saying the governor was inaccurately referring to what the company said were “private messages.”

Although it is unclear whether Ramos made public social media posts which could have alerted law enforcement officials to the shooting, the topic sparked debate among police officers regarding the importance of monitoring social media platforms and encouraging people to report any suspicious or threatening posts.

According to an article from The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah police said alerting police officers about a threatening social media post helped prevent a school shooting at Weber High School in Pleasant View. On October 2021, the police received a tip from the FBI which led them to social media messages from a 15-year-old girl who was allegedly planning to carry out a shooting at her school.

“This was a very serious case that had a lot of potential had it not been discovered,” Weber School district spokesperson Lane Findlay told The Daily Universe. “We were very fortunate that some information came to light from social media.”

Although the tip came from the FBI in this case, Findlay highlighted how critical it is that students report this type of threatening online activity.

“Even if they think that is not a big deal or that they are overreacting, it’s better to be safe than sorry and they need to report it,” Findlay said. “If by chance there is something to it, the smallest piece of information can change the entire outcome.”

BYU Police Department Lt. Wade Raab explained how the Texas shooting shows the importance of communication between students and police when it comes to reporting suspicious activity.

“Any type of report we get we take very seriously and we do an investigation, we look at the criminal history and social media,” Raab said. “Both the students and the police need to pay attention to these types of posts because if someone reports one or if we identify it, then we can intervene.”

According to Raab, BYU Police gets several reports of threatening social media posts throughout the year and said BYU is on a spotlight since it is a private and religious university.

“We have a big target on our backs,” he said. “There is a higher chance of us having an active event than other schools and we need to be ready for it.”

Utah County Sgt. Spencer Cannon also emphasized the recommendation to students, teachers and parents to call the police to help monitor and investigate school shooting attempts.

“It’s never the wrong thing to do in a situation like that,” Cannon said. “We rather have someone be wrong over missing the chance to prevent a situation like that.”

BYU’s preventative protocols and Utah County’s teacher training program

Although there has been a big focus on increasing the attention people pay to threatening social media posts, Cannon explained the police in Utah are also working to help teachers prepare for school shootings.

The Utah County police are doing so since 2019 with Sheriff Mike Smith’s Teacher’s Academy. This training program, about to begin its fourth session on June 7, provides teachers with self-defense classes, mindfulness principles and trainings on basic emergency first aid, firearms and de-escalation tactics.

Cannon said Smith will also “go over some of the history on school and mass shootings to give people an idea of what to expect.”

Besides training teachers on how to respond to active events similar to the Texas shooting, Findlay said school safety officials still strongly encourage the use of the SAFEUT app. The app was developed at the University of Utah Neurosciences Institute in December 2019 and “provides a way to connect to licensed counselors that are ready to listen to any sized crisis or concern,” the website says.

Gov. Spencer Cox also mentioned the use of the app in his Twitter statement on May 24 in response to the Uvalde shooting.

“We are absolutely devastated to learn about the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas. It’s hard to imagine a more heinous crime, and we pray for the students, educators, families, law enforcement officers, and everyone impacted by this senseless act of violence,” the governor’s statement said. “Even as we mourn for the victims, we urge parents and students to download the SAFEUT app and to say something if you see warning signs.”

When asking BYU Police about what their protocols in case of an active event are, Raab mentioned how their website offers information on what to do in the case of an active shooter or when shots are being fired. He also said the BYU Emergency Medical Services put together mass casualty incident trainings once a semester, one of them teaches EMTs how to respond to an armed mass shooting on campus.

Raab emphasized the importance of educating students, faculty and staff about active events and what to do in those cases. He said every freshman who attends New Student Orientation at the beginning of a semester or term is given instruction and information on the topic.

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