If mass shootings at schools and colleges have become depressingly routine, so has the apparent compulsion among some observers to attract attention to themselves by posting alarming images on social media or calling in fake bomb threats in the aftermath of a real tragedy. Police should send a clear message that such behavior will not be tolerated.
On Thursday, only hours after the shooter carried out his deadly rampage in an Umpqua Community College classroom, an unnamed former Ashland High School student posted what turned out to be a stock image of a gun along with what Ashland police called "somewhat threatening and alarming" statements about wanting to take revenge on some people in his life. When a former Ashland resident emailed screen shots of this material to police, they responded as they should have and took the matter seriously until investigators determined there was no actual threat.
Out of an abundance of caution, police and Ashland School District officials canceled the homecoming parade Thursday afternoon, and officers were on campus when classes let out, keeping students an extra 10 minutes to ensure their safety.
On Monday, a bomb threat to Rogue Community College prompted officials to evacuate all three RCC campuses in Grants Pass, Medford and White City. Southern Oregon University later canceled classes in the SOU Higher Education Center, and the adjacent Medford main library was closed. No bomb was found.
In Ashland, police announced Friday that no charges would be filed against the individual who posted the material on Facebook. When officers interviewed him, he told them he didn't mean any harm, and they decided not to file any charges against him.
We haven't seen the Facebook post in question, and we have no reason to doubt the investigators' conclusion that the man posed no threat. But his actions did have harmful consequences, as did those of whoever issued the bomb threat to RCC.
Students' educations were disrupted. In Ashland, students were denied a traditional parade as originally scheduled. And in both cases, police were mobilized, which cost taxpayers money and, in Grants Pass, the threat kept officers tied up searching for nonexistent bombs in a county that can barely protect its citizens under the best of circumstances. Officers were also called to search RCC buildings in Medford and White City.
It's hard to see how these kinds of threats can be shrugged off as somehow being so innocent as to require no punishment. Those responsible should face real consequences, and police and prosecutors should make it clear that they will not go easy on the perpetrators.