Warned of Mass Shooting on Boca Raton Campus, “18-Year-Old Mistake”.
Florida Atlantic University has expelled an 18-year-old student because of a post he made on the Yik Yak smartphone application warning of a potential mass shooting on the school’s Boca Raton campus.
Emeil Tavon Stewart, a freshman from Fort Meyers, wrote at 7:00PM Tuesday, September 8: “My friend just said he shooting up the breezeway and texted me a pic of a gun idk if he jokin.”
Stewart informed WPTV-NewsChannel 5 that he overheard an unidentified party on campus mention “shooting” and “breeze way” (the campus’ central walkway). Stewart says he was reluctant to contact campus police without more solid “evidence,” and thus attempted to inform students and gauge their response via social media.
Once Stewart made the post he told WPTV that he regretted in and attempted to remove it from Yik Yak but was unable to do so.
News media and university officials have spun the story differently, suggesting that Stewart himself was threatening to carry out a mass shooting.
For example, on September 10 Palm Beach Post article presented the story with the prefatory statement:
An 18-year-old student who university police and officials say threatened to shoot up the Florida Atlantic University campus won’t face charges.
Coverage in FAU’s student newspaper, the University Press, was similarly inaccurate.
Many posted about the additional campus officers in the Breezeway, the area the student said he would target in his post,” the UP reported. “Over Twitter, many of the students showed their relief that the shooter was found.“
The Palm Beach Post‘s “news partner” WPTV gave the story a similar frame early on, creating fear by emphasizing “a threat–an online threat–to FAU’s campus.”
WPTV later updated its coverage by interviewing Stewart and identifying the incident as a “hoax.”
“I was trying to explain my situation (to police) but I also knew they would kick me out because they have to cover there [sic] own butt,” he later told WPTV reporters. “They have all this panic. They have to come up with something. … At no point did I make a threat. That is one thing I want to clarify.”
“I am not some psychopath,” Stewart continued. “I’m not trying to kill anyone. I understand why they had to pick me out because of the panic maybe. But to twist my story and say I am some Rambo-crazy lunatic about to light them up, that was wrong.”
The Yik Yak application allows users to post anonymously. FAU students alerted campus police after reading Stewart’s Yik Yak posting. Shortly thereafter Stewart called police and claimed authorship of the post. Police said they searched Stewart’s campus dorm room and found no gun. Police did not indicate if Stewart told them who the friend was that Stewart was referencing in his post.
FAU Police Chief Charles Lowe said that “this was absolutely an 18-year-old making a foolish and impulsive decision…”
Asked why Stewart wasn’t arrested, Lowe stated: “The bottom line was that once we were able to understand that this was not a serious threat and it was an 18-year-old mistake, we made the determination to refer it to student affairs…”
FAU then expelled the student, according to Corey King, vice president for student affairs. Stewart was issued a trespass notice from FAU police and warned that he would be arrested if he returns to campus.
“I hope this is an example to our students… of how a poor decision of a post on social media can lead to serious repercussions,” King said.
Stewart was in police custody for more than two hours before he was removed from campus.
King said Stewart was looking to get a “response” from fellow students.
“He learned quickly that students were reacting in a way that he had not anticipated,” King said.
“This was a pure act of bystander intervention,” King continued. “The immediacy of the students’ reports to us and the police allowed our law enforcement to immediately get involved and within a couple of hours had this under control.”
(KIng’s remarks are curious. Apparently a rumor begun by a well-intenioned yet indiscrete 18-year-old now requires severe police intervention and expulsion from the institution.)
Lowe said that more officers were patrolling around campus Wednesday, not because of any perceived threat, but to “make sure our community felt safe.”
In his Facebook profile, Stewart wrote that he was studying neuroscience at FAU and indicates he attended Charlotte High School and South Fort Myers High School.
The hysteria, inaccurate reportage and FAU’s drastic action of expelling the student over the entire affair is arguably a sign of just how paranoid our society has become. This is largely attributable to so many highly sensationalized (and often dubious) public shootings.
What do you think?
Professor James F. Tracy is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University. James Tracy’s work on media history, politics and culture has appeared in a wide variety of academic journals, edited volumes, and alternative news and opinion outlets. James is editor of Union for Democratic Communication’s Journal Democratic Communiqué and a contributor to Project Censored’s forthcoming publication Censored 2013: The Top Censored Stories and Media Analysis of 2011-2012. Additional writings and information are accessible at memoryholeblog.com.