Suspect in Custody for Threat Against Splendora Residents
EAST MONTGOMERY COUNTY, July 14, 2014 - A suspect is in custody following an intensive investigation into threats made against Splendora residents over social media late last week. The threats began with cyber bullying against a boy who had cancer. The suspect was using the alias, “Melissa Johnson,” and a photo of someone else. She first told the recovering cancer patient he “should have died.” The boy’s mother responded with “Excuse me?” and the suspect replied, “Can u not read???” She told someone else to “Go die with (the name of the young cancer patient).” The viciousness continued.
The statement that caused the most trouble was posted Friday, when the suspect posted, “I am going to kill everybody in Splendora on July 13th.”
The statement quickly spread through social media, and members of the Splendora community began contacting the Precinct 4 Constable’s Office. By Friday night, Precinct 4 Internet Crimes investigators had disrupted their weekends and begun trying to identify “Melissa Johnson.” The task was daunting at first, with what seemed to be a lack of cooperation from Facebook, despite the potential urgency of the situation. After all, the threat was reported less than 48 hours prior to the day the suspect stated it would be carried out.
Precinct 4 Constable Kenneth “Rowdy” Hayden’s relaxing weekend on the water with his family was also disrupted, but he said he did not mind.
“I grew up in the Splendora area, and I’ve chose to raise my family here as well,” Constable Hayden said. “If something affects the residents of East Montgomery County, I want to know about it and be part of the solution. Fortunately, I have dedicated investigators who feel just as strongly and I’m proud of how they handled it.”
Constable Hayden said members of his agency received numerous calls from concerned citizens, and not only Splendora residents.
“A lady from Beaumont contacted dispatch to reach a Precinct 4 deputy because her son was scheduled to play in a sporting event and she wanted to know if he would be safe, because she’d heard about the threat,” he said. “Another lady called and said she heard about the threat and went to stay with family in Cleveland, but she had a birthday party to attend in Splendora Sunday and she wanted to know if it was safe to return.”
The Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office became involved, with First Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant publicly stating Facebook officials were not cooperating. It is unknown what turned the tide, but at some point on Saturday, Facebook officials contacted Montgomery County agreeing to provide the requested assistance.
Less than 24 hours later, members of the Precinct 4 Constable’s Office had identified the suspect, traveled to the Harris County home she was visiting, and placed her under arrest. They also seized electronic devices from the location.
As of Monday morning, investigators were interviewing the suspect attempting to find answers as to why she made the statements that panicked and upset so many. For now, no one has answers. The suspect’s family is cooperating with law enforcement.
Constable Hayden said the case was disturbing for more reasons than just the panic that spread through the Splendora community.
“We realize a 13-year-old child will use poor judgment, and make mistakes, but we have to take threats like these seriously,” he said. “In light of so many incidents in recent years where suspects announced their intentions through social media, such as the mass shooting at the University of California in May, these threats cannot be ignored.”
In the California case, a 22-year-old man announced his intentions on YouTube hours before shooting 19 people, six of whom died, and no doubt traumatizing scores of others including victims’ families and witnesses. He then turned the gun on himself.
“We hope this young lady will learn from her mistake and do something positive with her life,” Constable Hayden said. “We also hope this is a wakeup call for parents. We cannot stress enough the importance of knowing what your children are doing online and talking to them about the serious consequences they‘ll face if they engage in this type of behavior.”
“This is not a joke, and this young lady found out the hard way,” he said. “Sunday morning she woke up surrounding by family in a comfortable home – This morning, she’s in juvenile detention and I’ll guarantee you, she now realizes the seriousness of what she’s done.”
“Please, talk to your kids,” Constable Hayden said. “If you don’t, we may have to.”