Children, ages 12 and 13, charged for allegedly threatening Winnipeg schools

The two youths arrested for allegedly threatening three Winnipeg schools last week on social media were boys aged 12 and 13, police say, who had no access to weapons and likely didn't think they'd get caught.

'Incredibly complex' investigation had police working with overseas social media company to ID anonymous users

École Van Belleghem, one of three Winnipeg schools threatened last week, was put under a hold-and-secure for days after the threats were posted anonymously online last Thursday. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The two youths arrested for allegedly threatening three Winnipeg schools on social media were boys aged 12 and 13, police say, who had no access to weapons and likely didn't think they'd get caught.

Police are urging parents to use the arrests as a learning opportunity to talk to their children about online platforms, after the anonymous online threats resulted in a $45,000 police investigation and heightened security at the schools last week.

"I think the parents of these two children probably didn't think that they were capable of doing what they did," said Const. Jay Murray on Wednesday.

"I think it can happen to anyone. And sometimes, children … I don't think they fully understand or appreciate the impact that this could cause on society."

The arrests follow threats made last Thursday to Arthur Day Middle School and John W. Gunn Middle School, in the River East Transcona School Division, and to École Van Belleghem, in the Louis Riel School Division. Posts also threatened police officers, Murray said.

Use this as a learning opportunity with your children. Talk to them about it. And hopefully we can discourage things like this from happening in the future.- Const. Jay Murray

École Van Belleghem, which has students from kindergarten to Grade 8, was under a hold-and-secure from Friday to Tuesday because of the threats, meaning classes continued but doors were locked. Police were also stationed at the school.

The online threats aren't thought to be credible or connected, Murray said. He called the investigation to identify the online posters was "incredibly complex."

Police worked with the overseas company controlling the social media platform where the threats were posted to identify the users, he said. Multiple detectives worked on the investigation, he added, which is estimated to have cost police $45,000.

"I think a lot of the investigators feel that when [the boys] made the threat, they probably didn't appreciate the fact that they would be arrested for this," he said.

"Perhaps they didn't think they'd be caught. They thought that they were anonymous online. But the reality was yesterday both those kids were in a room being interviewed by detectives and at one point were handcuffed."

14-year-old girl also facing charges for separate threat last week

The boys have both been charged with uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm after the threats were anonymously posted online last week. Police won't disclose the nature of the threats in an effort to avoid similar threats in the future, Murray said. 

The boys were arrested Tuesday and released into the custody of their parents on a promise to appear in court. Police can't say whether they're students at any of the schools that were threatened. Their identities are protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

A 14-year-old girl was also charged last week after threats to Arthur Day Middle School on Jan. 14 — three days before the latest threats were posted.

Murray stressed the importance of speaking to your children about online behaviour, anonymity and threats.

"I know there was a lot of parents that were very stressed about this incident, that were very worried for their children, kept their children home from school. This was a significant impact, not only for the Winnipeg Police Service but for the community as a whole," he said.

"Use this as a learning opportunity with your children. Talk to them about it. And hopefully we can discourage things like this from happening in the future."