Three eighth graders in Frederick County, Maryland, were arrested and charged with hate crimes after authorities say they made threats on social media against Black students.
Frederick County deputies along with school resource officers responded to Middletown Middle School in Middletown, Maryland, about 9 a.m. Wednesday for threats posted on Instagram and Snapchat, the sheriff’s office said.
Frederick County Public Schools determined that a social media post “containing hate speech and the threat of violence toward Black students” had been distributed, the school system said in a tweet.
The photos in question were taken in January or February and featured racist remarks and the suspects with weapons, authorities said.
The sheriff's office said it “took the proper steps to ensure the school and Middletown community was safe.” The school was not locked down at any time, according to the sheriff’s office.
Deputies searched the students' bedrooms with the consent of their parents and found several fake firearms, the sheriff's office said.
Authorities said one student who did have a real handgun also faces a weapons charge in addition to the hate crime charge.
"We can't and won't tolerate these types of threats or messages that disrupt and create fear in our communities. Let me be very clear: The students responsible are going to face some serious consequences," Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said at a news conference on Thursday.
"This is not a school system issue. This is a community issue. We cannot tolerate hate speech as a community and it requires all of us to point the finger at ourselves to examine what we are doing to make sure we prevent these types of things from happening," Dr. Eric Louers-Phillips, the executive director of FCPS, said.
The students have since been released back into their parents' custody. Authorities have not identified them because they are being treated as juveniles.
Anyone with information or who received the image directly from a student in the photo is asked to contact FCSO SRO Deputy 1st Class Andy Smothers at 301-600-7138.