Chicago Special Report: Who is posting fake school threats and why?

It’s a parent's worst nightmare: finding out someone is threatening an act of violence at their child's school.

While Chicago-area police, teachers and parents have seen their fair share of those threats posted on social media, so far they have turned out to be hoaxes.

In a FOX 32 Special Report, Dane Placko looks for answers as to who is posting them and why.

"Threats are not something that is fun to pass time," said Jennifer Norrell, East Aurora School District.

And yet, Chicago-area police investigated at least 21 school hoax threats in December 2021 alone. A FOX 32 Chicago analysis of local school threats for the last few years found those 21 threats occurred over a span of just 18 days.

With online activity coming to a peak on December 17, because of a viral nationwide TikTok challenge called "Shoot Up Your School." It was rumored to take place that day.

"A lot of kids say it was just a joke once the police get involved and talk to them," said Robert Berlin, DuPage County State’s Attorney. "But we can’t treat it as a joke."

Berlin says law enforcement has to take each threat seriously because you don’t know if things will escalate.

Just like the case in Michigan last November.

While Berlin adds some students are crying out for help when they post a fake school threat, he says others are not.

"I believe, a lot of these kids, it’s just attention," Berlin said. "It’s a way of getting attention … to themselves … they don’t really think about all of the consequences."

18-year-old Jordan Hassel of Lansing was charged as an adult last year with posting social media threats against several Chicago public schools, including Simeon High School.

In addition to Hassel’s case, our analysis found McHenry, Will, Lake, Cook and DuPage counties all prosecuted cases last year for students posting fake threats online about a school.

The majority of those cases were filed in juvenile court. This offense can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a Class 4 felony.

We also found that almost all of these counties charged more cases in 2019 than in 2021.

"If we looked at what we charged in 2021, it probably would have been the same as 2019," Berlin said.

With some law enforcement agencies already seeing a significant number school hoax threat cases prior to 2020, then what’s the reason why kids are posting these messages?

"From my perspective in regards to what I’ve read and what I’ve seen, social media will encourage anything that will increase the number of kids that will be on their social media site," said Dr. Louis Kraus.

According to Dr. Kraus, that includes impulsive or some type of behavior that’s a level of concern that everyone wants to look at it.

Kraus is the Division Head of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center.

"As kids’ brains develop, they develop a sense of short and long-term impact of their behavior. It isn’t really formalized until you are 25," Dr. Kraus said.

Kraus adds kids say things all the time. But when they put it in writing, they don’t appreciate the severity of what could occur. That’s why he says parents are key to curbing this type of behavior.

"Parents who read about this, see this on the news, can use this as a great stepping stone to start having conversations with their kids about the seriousness of what this is," Dr. Kraus.

Kraus encourages parents to set limits and monitor their children's social media activity. If they're on it too much, he suggests taking away their access to it from time to time.

It’s also important to note in cases like these, prosecutors say the parents are also parties to the case.