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Teen Arrested in Alleged Threat on School

May 17, 2003|Lance Pugmire, Louis Sahagun and Kristina Sauerwein | Times Staff Writers

A teenage student at Riverside Polytechnic High School was arrested Friday morning after he allegedly threatened to "shoot up a school" in a message posted on the Web site of rapper 50 Cent, and later told police he intended to carry out the threat, authorities said.

After the FBI received an anonymous tip Thursday night, the Riverside Police Department raided a home where the student was staying and found 10 weapons -- including handguns, rifles and shotguns -- and ammunition in a bedroom, police said.

The teenager's father, Carl Hagerman, said the incident was blown "way out of proportion" and that his son, a Bible study student, was at his grandmother's house when he was arrested. The guns were registered and belonged to the teenager's deceased grandfather, his father said.

Police said the incident did not appear to be a prank. The investigation revealed that the suspect had made preliminary plans to carry out the threats to use firearms at the campus, police said.

"We have not determined a motive yet, but whatever he had in mind he was going to carry out soon, whether it was [Friday] or the coming week," Riverside Police spokesman Felix Medina said. "These weren't pellet guns. The weapons we confiscated had the potential to cause great bodily harm and death to individuals."

The student was arrested on suspicion of making terrorist threats and booked into Riverside County Juvenile Hall, Medina said. Police also seized his computer. Because he is a minor, his name was not released.

The threatening messages on the rap star's Web site appeared to have been posted by a person using the moniker "Escalade EXT 2006," which was listed as being from an AOL Internet account belonging to "cwhagerman00" -- the initials and last name of the suspect's father.

In a series of messages posted Wednesday and Thursday, Escalade EXT 2006 identified himself as a 14-year-old, wealthy student at Riverside's Polytechnic High. "I want to shoot the school hit me back," he wrote.

On Thursday night, he wrote: "I'm a millionaire. I have 100 mill and I hate my life and I plan to do a school shooting." Four minutes later, another entry reads: "I just want to explain that today is my last day online." And minutes later, Escalade EXT 2006 wrote: "I have planned this for a year and I'm white."

The teenager's parents, who said they were devastated by their son's arrest, confirmed their son wrote the messages but said he was "blowing off steam" after being repeatedly harassed by a bully at school.

"I am torn apart by this. My son would have never in a million years done something like they are saying he did," said Yvette Hagerman, the boy's mother.

Her son may have been acting tough to impress a girl who was also posting messages in the Web site chat room, she said. "He said something stupid," she said, referring to the messages that led to her son's arrest.

She said her son is 14, although police said he was 15.

Chuck Hiroto, an assistant principal at Polytechnic High, said school officials were notified Thursday night that a student had made threats to harm another student about lunchtime Friday. "We're really thankful that this didn't occur, obviously, and the system works," he said.

On Friday, police were on campus interviewing the intended victim and three friends of the accused student. The student had told the friends of his plans, but "they weren't taking him seriously," Hiroto said.

The FBI's Internet Tip Service was alerted about the threats at 7 p.m. Thursday, just hours after the messages were posted on rapper 50 Cent's Web site. Riverside detectives and forensic computer experts identified the suspect's address within eight hours of the tip, FBI spokeswoman Cheryl Mimura said.

One of the department's computer forensic detectives identified a person in Riverside with the same initials and last name of the user. Riverside police said the teenager, after he was taken into custody, admitted posting the threats.

"Our department worked on this through the night," Riverside Police Detective Jim Brandt said.

"The people who came forward clearly did the right thing. We obviously believe the threat was very credible because of the weapons, and we're glad we got there when we did."

Brandt said the messages on the Web site drew quick, critical responses from others.

"About 99% of those who responded to what he wrote were reacting as if he was an idiot," Brandt said.

"From there, the conversation evolved to the point where others started saying, 'We need to call some crime stoppers and turn this guy in.' "

Mimura said the bureau's Internet Tip Service, which was established after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has since received 645,000 tips and is monitored 24 hours a day at a command post in Washington.

Rapper 50 Cent, who was appearing at the House of Blues Club at the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas on Friday evening, did not return calls for comment. His major label debut album, "Get Rich or Die Tryin," is No. 1 on the pop charts.

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