Warning for teens and parents in NJ: Social media school threats are a serious crime

Newark, N.J. — Officials put out a warning to parents and teens in New Jersey Tuesday: any juvenile or others who attempt to threaten schools on social media will be prosecuted.

Four teens have been charged in Essex County for creating false public alarm since the Parkland tragedy. They range in age from 13 to 18. Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert Laurino pointed to these arrests and the upcoming sentencing of John Coulouris, 19, who is expected to get seven years in state prison for threats he made against Livingston High School in 2016.

“We want to make it clear to young people who think this is a joke or a prank, that they will be prosecuted for this behavior,’’ Laurino said.

Michael Schmitt, an 18-year-old West Caldwell resident, is expected to face a judge tomorrow for creating false public alarm at James Caldwell High School in West Caldwell on Feb. 24. Investigators believe he posted a video to snapchat threatening the school on a Saturday, prompting a lockdown of students and parents who were at the school for a music performance.

Joseph Rafanello, an 18-year-old Nutley resident, is facing the same charge for allegedly posting a threatening video to Instagram that included photos of himself posing with guns, an image of a school and lyrics that include: “You better run from my gun.”

“These copycat incidents are serious crimes and those who engage in this kind of criminal conduct face serious consequences," Laurino said.

Since the Parkland tragedy, Essex County schools have faced a spike in threats Laurino said. He would not disclose every location threatened because some threats are still being investigated.

A 13-year-old student and 14-year-old student from Essex County are also facing charges for allegedly threatening Abundant Life Academy in Nutley a few days ago.