Police Say ‘Point of Interest’ In Hanover High Social Media Threat Is Outside Upper Valley

  • Hanover Police Officer Mark Ridge, left, and Sgt. Jeff Ballard were talking to students in the lobby of Hanover High School on March 20, 2018, in Hanover, N.H. The officers said they were spending time talking with students. Many students left the school after an investigation of a potential social media threat to students at the school. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Maureen Stannard leaves Hanover High School with her son Owen on March 20, 2018, in Hanover, N.H. A potential social media threat was made to students at the school, prompting many parents to pick up their children early. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/20/2018 9:59:53 AM
Modified: 3/21/2018 11:31:33 AM

Hanover — Police say a school shooting threat delivered via social media to several Hanover High School students early Tuesday morning came from an IP address that is registered outside of the immediate Upper Valley.

The threat — which was made on Instagram, a social network that allows users to share photos and videos — prompted scores of students to leave school early. Hanover police officers stood guard at the school all day while also calling other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, for assistance.

Police wouldn’t disclose the exact physical location of the IP address or any other concrete details about the ongoing situation. The Instagram account has the handle “hanoverhighshooting.”

“After a rigorous day of investigation into this matter, the Hanover Police Department believes several of the leads are coming to a direct ‘point of interest,’ ” the Hanover Police Department said in a news release late Tuesday afternoon. “At this time, we are able to release that this point of interest is not in the immediate area of the Upper Valley.”

“The IP takes us to a location, not necessarily a person,” Hanover Lt. Scott Rathburn said in a phone interview. An IP address is a string of numbers given to a computer connected to the internet.

The Instagram account’s threat referenced a firearm, but gave no specific day or time for an attack. The bio reads, in part, “THIS IS FOR WHAT YOU’VE GIVEN ME FOR 2 YEARS STRAIGHT I GIVE NO MERCY IF I SEE YOU YOU GET SHOT. IT HAPPENS SOON ... MAYBE TODAY ... ”

The account, which has the name “Its Over For U (expletive),” is public, meaning it can be viewed by anyone, although no posts have been made. As of Tuesday night, the account remained active on Instagram. Over the course of the day, the account was following as few as three other accounts and as many as seven.

The account’s profile picture is an internet stock image of a female clad in a black dress, holding rifles. Her face isn’t visible in the photograph.

The threat was brought to police attention on Tuesday morning after the account started following some Hanover students’ accounts, police said. Several students took a screenshot of the account’s profile and sent it to faculty and staff at the school, something Hanover High School Principal Justin Campbell commended the students for doing.

Police responded promptly and monitored the school’s campus throughout the day.

The threat occurred on the same day a male student at Great Mills High School in southern Maryland shot and injured two fellow students before being killed himself. That situation was on the minds of Hanover administrators and parents on Tuesday.

“That’s probably to some degree even heightening concerns here,” Campbell said during an interview inside his office on Tuesday.

The Hanover High School community remained on high alert throughout the morning.

School administrators implemented a “closed campus,” meaning students had to stay inside or be checked in and out of the building, instead of being able to move freely around campus. Typically, students who have the open campus privilege can leave during free periods, Campbell said.

Tom Blinkhorn, a Hanover resident, said he noticed police officers around Hanover High as he dropped off his son Will, a sophomore, at school early Tuesday morning.

Will soon texted him about the threat and Blinkhorn called the high school office to say his son had permission to sign out for the day, though he planned to return for a sports activity after school.

“I feel badly because I had always assumed that in this little bubble in Hanover and Norwich and the Upper Valley, I always felt we were safe from these kinds of things, but the infection is spreading across the country,” said Blinkhorn, an occasional contributor to the Valley News.

By midday, parents had checked the majority of students out of school, according to several students who exited.

“It feels safe inside, but it’s uncomfortable waiting,” Hanover High senior Olivia Skirvin, 18, said after she checked herself out of school. “A lot of kids have left. People are doing what makes them feel safe right now.”

Junior Jett Elin said he didn’t know much about the Instagram account other than the fact that it existed.

When students arrived at school on Tuesday morning, several appeared nervous, Elin said.

“Everyone was on edge,” he said, adding that around 10:45 a.m., classrooms were “pretty empty.”

Norwich resident Chris Trimble said his wife found out about the situation early Tuesday morning and relayed the message to him. Campbell, the principal, emailed the school community around 7:45 a.m. notifying parents and students about the threat, and school officials sent out updates during the day.

“We’re worried,” Trimble said when asked why he picked up his freshman son Hank, along with their neighbors’ son, from school. Trimble said the check-out process inside the school was “smooth and calm.”

Maureen Stannard, a Hanover resident who has triplets attending ninth grade at the school, said each of them reacted differently to news of the threat. One asked to come home immediately, while the two others stayed at school for at least part of the day, she said.

When she saw the Instagram account, Stannard said, she became concerned, a feeling that grew when she received a request to be followed by the account.

Superintendent Jay Badams, who issued an email statement to the school community late in the day, said he has scheduled a Monday public forum to discuss bullying. He plans to allot time at the forum, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the Hanover High School library, to discussing Tuesday’s events.

“Today was a trying day for all of us. It is unfortunate that we are forced to react to anonymous threats, but tragic events at schools throughout our nation have shown us that we need to take such threats seriously,” Badams said in the statement, which linked to a Hanover police news release about the IP address. “As you’ll see, it appears that this threat originated far from our community, a fact that we will have to consider as we continue to refine our emergency procedures.”

Hanover High School has various protocols and procedures in place in the event of an emergency, such as a threat or an active shooter, Campbell said. Drills are held often and the procedures are reviewed regularly.

“I have received many questions about safety protocols. We do our best to make sure our procedures, training and buildings are as safe as can be,” Campbell said in a formal announcement on Tuesday afternoon. “We will review all of our practices after this most recent incident.”

“The biggest part for us is to track down who is responsible for the account, so we’ve collaborated with our law enforcement partners to be able to reach out and find out who is responsible for the account,” Hanover Police Capt. Mark Bodanza said.

Hanover police contacted the FBI and other agencies, including internet crime investigators, for assistance on Tuesday.

Only 11th-grade students will have school today in Hanover because of scheduled testing for the SAT. All other students have the day off, something that was planned before the threat, Campbell said. Hanover police also will be present in the school today.

Anyone with information about the threat is asked to call Bodanza at 603-643-2222.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.

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