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Former Oklahoma high school student suspected of making online death threats was never charged because FBI reports stayed classified for months

Image via Thinkstock
Image via Thinkstock

EDMOND — A former high school student suspected of making online death threats was investigated but never charged because FBI reports remained classified for months.

By the time the reports were finally declassified this year, the former student had moved out of the United States, the FBI acknowledged Sunday in a statement.

"At no time, however, was there an indication of an active threat to a school or danger to the public or the citizens of Oklahoma," the FBI said.

The teenager had threatened multiple times online to kill "Zionists" for crimes against Islam, the FBI said.

The first time was Oct. 21, 2016, an FBI special agent reported in an affidavit requesting a search warrant for school records. The last time was March 22, 2017, from a computer at Edmond Santa Fe High School, where the suspect was a student.

No reference was made in any of the online statements "to a threat of school violence," the FBI said.

Federal prosecutors never filed charges, in large part because the suspect was a juvenile — 16 at the time of the first threats.

However, federal prosecutors did direct the FBI to contact Oklahoma County prosecutors after the online threat was made from the school computer.

The FBI agent did, in August. Oklahoma County prosecutors were willing to file a misdemeanor case but the agent then said he couldn't turn over his reports.

"We were told the investigation was classified," District Attorney David Prater said Sunday.

"Without their reports and evidence, we had no ability to prosecute the matter," Prater said. "To this date, we still don't have the FBI's investigation."

The district attorney called for changes to be made.

"My hope is that at some point, federal agency heads in D.C. will no longer require their agents to follow outdated and unnecessary policies that require D.C. approval for routine law enforcement practices that municipal and state officers do on a daily basis," Prater said.

"Investigative leads become stale and worthless by the time some bureaucrat approves the requested activity," he said.

The FBI acknowledged Sunday that "in order for the district attorney's office to obtain these documents, the Oklahoma City FBI was required to request declassification and use authority from FBI headquarters."

"This process can be lengthy," the FBI said.

Some documents were classified because the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force conducted the investigation.

A misdemeanor conviction for making the threats may not have resulted in any detention for the teenager but almost certainly would have led to extensive counseling and to monitoring of his future activities.

The Oklahoman learned of the investigation when the sealed search warrant for school records was made public in January.

The name of the former student remains blacked out in the released documents. The FBI described him as having social disorders and said he has undergone private behavioral counseling.

In his affidavit for a search warrant, the FBI special agent, Beau D. Coffindaffer, wrote that the online user making the threats went by the pseudonym "Allahu Akbar," which means "God is great."

The first threat in October 2016 was sent to an FBI website created to receive complaints about internet crimes, according to the affidavit. It stated: "Christian Zionist Jewish infidel spies keep on infiltrating our mosques. We will kill you if you ever try to defile our mosques again. You will not enter our mosques again unless you get our consent."

Two of the threats were directed at John Guandolo, a former FBI agent who claims there is a network of militant Muslims in the United States plotting to overthrow the government.

The first of those came in November 2016, days after Guandolo spoke at the Oklahoma Capitol, according to the affidavit.

During a House hearing in October 2016, Guandolo called the executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations a terrorist.

The second threat directed at Guandolo was the one sent from Edmond Santa Fe High School last March.

The FBI also never notified Edmond Public Schools about its investigation until after the student had graduated.

"Edmond Public Schools was unaware of the nature or severity of the threats until contacted by law enforcement officials in June 2017," the school district's public information officer Susan Parks-Schlepp said Sunday.

"By then the student had already graduated," she said. "In August 2017, the district began using Gaggle software that reveals potentially harmful content in emails, documents and shared files and alerts district personnel of unsafe situations.”

Gaggle is an email system that offers "control and transparency for teachers and administrators," the company's website says.

The FBI has faced sharp criticism on a national level since the deadly school shooting in Florida Feb. 14. The FBI has acknowledged it failed to follow up on a tip in January about the suspect, Nikolas Cruz.

"Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter," President Donald Trump tweeted a few days later. "This is not acceptable."

Full FBI Statement

In late 2016, the FBI Oklahoma City Field Office initiated an investigation into multiple online threatening statements referencing a desire to “ ... kill crusading Zionists for crimes against Islam” and other similar statements. The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force investigates all threats, and immediately surged resources to investigate the potential for violence, criminal activity, and a threat to national security. No reference was made to a threat of school violence.

An immediate investigation determined the source of the statements and search warrants were obtained through the Federal Prosecutor from the Western District of Oklahoma. The search warrant, interviews, and evidence quickly determined the threats were made by a then 16 year old (juvenile) male with social disorders. After review of the evidence, it was determined no further threat to national security existed. 

In late spring 2017, a second threat was made with similar references as the first set of threats. A subsequent federal search warrant was obtained and investigations revealed the threat originated from the same juvenile. The United States Attorney's Office, Western District of Oklahoma, requested the FBI refer the case to the Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office.

Due to the nature of National Security Investigations, some of the investigation included classified documents. In order for the District Attorney's Office to obtain these documents, the Oklahoma City FBI was required to request declassification and use authority from FBI Headquarters. This process can be lengthy. At no time, however, was there an indication of an active threat to a school or danger to the public or the citizens of Oklahoma.

In early February 2018, investigators learned the juvenile moved out of the country to reside with family members. The Oklahoma County District Attorney's Office issued its declination to prosecute the case on February 16, 2018, citing the juvenile's mental health diagnosis, behavioral counseling, and relocation outside the United States.

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Nolan Clay

Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,... Read more ›

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