Anyone who has been a teenager or spent even a little time with one knows they’re prone to say and do foolish things.

The challenge for rational adults is to decipher whether what teenagers say and do are real threats to themselves or others. That’s never been an easy thing to do and is even more difficult and complicated in the era of school shootings, including the one in which a Santa Fe High School student on May 18 opened fire, killing 10 people and wounded 13 more.

On Sept. 5, Santa Fe school officials learned about a threatening text message sent from one student to another that contained a list of names of people that one of the students wanted to “kill.”

The school district and the community still grieve. Everyone is on edge.

School districts immediately and appropriately informed parents and law enforcement officials.

But the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office said the students’ actions didn’t merit criminal charges.

“The safety of students in our community is of utmost importance, and our office works daily with the school district in Galveston County to investigate any potential threat,” Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady said. “When the evidence shows that a potential threat actually constitutes a terroristic threat under the law, then we file criminal charges against those involved.”

Although it wasn’t a popular response, it was a rational, measured and appropriate response.

It might have been easier, more politically expedient, to make a show of charging the students, whether their actions rose to the level of a crime or not, and then let the juvenile courts quietly sort it out later.

School districts and law enforcement are compelled to investigate each and every threat. In this day and age, no one should ignore a threat, no matter how apparently trivial. And teenagers should learn that foolishness has consequences.

The district said it had disciplined the teenagers, who, let’s hope, are under the watchful eyes of parents and authorities.

But law enforcement is tasked with the difficult part — how to separate the melodramatic and attention-seeking — no matter how offensive their comments — from the people who are true threats and have the ways and means to harm others.

School administrators and law enforcement officials are in unenviable positions. With the Santa Fe shooting and all others before it, school officials must anticipate any potential threat to safety of students, teachers and staff.

As school districts across the county strengthen security measures after Santa Fe, they and law enforcement also should adopt policies about threat assessments to prevent violence.

Such assessments should identify student threats to commit a violent act, determine the seriousness of the threat and develop intervention plans that protect potential victims and address the underlying problem or conflict, according to the National Association of School Psychologists.

“Threats may be communicated to the intended victim or related to a third party,” according to the association. “A threat to harm others can be transient, i.e., expression of anger or frustration that can be quickly or easily resolved) or substantive, i.e., serious intent to harm others that involves a detailed plan and means.”

The Santa Fe students who texted the “kill” list did a very stupid thing that shouldn’t go unpunished.

But what school districts and law enforcement officials shouldn’t do is overreact to the point that we lock up every student who says or does a foolish thing. After all, a lot of teenagers would be incarcerated.

Even when emotions are high the voice of reason should prevail.

• Laura Elder

 Laura Elder: 409-683-5248; laura.elder@galvnews.com

Managing Editor

(6) comments

Rusty Schroeder

These kids parents definitely know people in the decision making process. After May 18th at the same high school, making a list to kill other students is a little more than foolish, it's one of the dumbest most stupid things you could do. I am sure the kids targeted on the list parents share your views Lisa, then again probably not. This shows me that these 2 individuals didn't receive enough sensitivity training and should have been expelled for the remainder of the semester. Let their parents handle them for 4 months and have their graduation pushed back a semester and I just bet they would have a better understanding of the phrase "actions have consequences". It appears in today's warped society that threats of death or assassination are just commonplace if voiced from the left, as are apparently the views of the GCDN.

David Smith

Teenagers need to learn that actions have consequences...that will prepare them for LIFE as an adult in a couple of years..
Also the law should not protect their name from the public... this just ENABLES them.. knowing their actions will be hidden due to them being a minor..
Do the crime?
Do the time.. just like adults
If I had sent a threatning text saying I was gonna shoot people at school.. would they let me go with no consequences?

George Croix

Well, after dealing with the equivalent of this kind of stuff for decades, where common sense butts heads with zero tolerance, I've gotta take Laura's side on this particular issue.
It's simply bad policy, imo, to act by rote and not look at the whole of each issue....at the circumstances and the people involved and the existing conditions/situation at the time.
Soime very bad things did or almost happened at the place I worked precisely because too many tried to enforce a one-size-fits-all mandate rather than use reality of the moment observations and reason.
Yes, those brats need their B-hinds dusted, but even Art Linkletter noted that kids say the darndest things, as do adults, with both often leaving brain out of gear and HUA. EVERY voiced threat cannot be criminalized, else we'd all, at some time, end up in jail.
I,personally, have no use for 'zero tolerance' as it takes away decision making based on actual, real time issues.
We hire people to make decisions.
If we don't trust their decisions, they should be replaced.

Jose' Boix

The final quote from this column is key "Even when emotions are high the voice of reason should prevail." In the process though, I believe that we must try to underscore several traits we have seemingly lost: civility, responsibility, behavior, understanding and regard for authority, just to name a few. Just my thoughts.

Michael Guarino

I agree with this editorial and support District Attorney Jack Roady. The job of the DA is to apply the law to the facts in every case he reviews. Such a decision cannot be based on what is the most post popular or convenient decision to make. Character and integrity are essential elements in the decision to charge or not charge a citizen with a crime. Roady didn't make the most popular decision but he did make the right one.

AJ LeBlanc

A thoughtful and concise editorial with which I agree. There is not (nor ever will be) any substitute for discernment and good judgment.

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