It started with the download of a social media app, it escalated with anonymous posts spreading rumors and gossip, and it culminated with a threat that landed one Clewiston High School senior in juvenile detention facing a second-degree felony charge.
On Monday, Sept. 22, the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office was alerted about a threat made against students at Clewiston High School on a social media app called Yik Yak. The app allows users to post anonymous thoughts on a bulletin-board-like platform for others within a 10-mile radius to see. “News, funny experiences, shout outs and jokes spread faster than ever through Yik Yak’s tight-knit community,” boasts the app’s description.
News certainly does travel fast on Yik Yak. According to school administrators, a group of students downloaded the app at the Tiger football game on Friday, Sept. 19, and by the following Monday enough “news” had spread that an anonymous poster made a threat to shoot up the roughly 200 students who eat in A lunch.
The sheriff’s office was able to track down the “anonymous” poster using GPS tracking technology and arrested 17-year-old Manual Castanon on charges of written threats to kill or do bodily injury.
Before the arrest was made in the early morning hours of Tuesday, Sept. 23, school administrators had already planned to launch “Operation Hope” to delete the negative posts made on Yik Yak. Students gathered in the auditorium on Tuesday with cell phones in hand, charged with the task to “dislike” the negative posts and fill the message board with positive thoughts and comments.
The threatening post, many students reportedly believed, was made in retaliation: according to student comments after the arrest, Castanon was apparently bullied, though administrators could not confirm those remarks.
And while students seemed to stick up for Castanon after the news of his arrest was made public, the majority reportedly agreed that he should be punished for the threat he allegedly made. The sheriff’s office also said in a comment that any threat made against the school and its students would be taken seriously.
Ironically — or perhaps fatefully — the threat was made the same day that sixth through ninth grade students attended an assembly featuring “Rachel’s Challenge,” an inspirational presentation based off of journals written by Rachel Joy Scott, one of the students killed in the shootings at Columbine High School in April 1999.
“Rachel’s Challenge” encourages students to create a permanent positive culture in their schools by starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.
“People will never know how far a little kindness can go,” Rachel wrote in her journal before her death. Rachel envisioned a world where one kind word would continue exponentially until it impacted each and every person.
But the antithesis is also true, as shown by the words exchanged on Yik Yak two weekends ago. Hurtful words carry weight, and with that weight comes consequence. Though they don’t always lead to such a horrible incident as Columbine, those words are forever etched in the minds of those they target.