Earlier this week, a student at Lake Park High School in the suburbs of Chicago was arrested for threatening to commit a school shooting on social media. At his hearing, a judge yesterday ordered the teen to forfeit his smartphone to his parents and stop playing violent video games.
According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, the 16-year-old sophomore (whose name has not been released because he’s a minor) put out a video on Snapchat in which he was playing a video game and said, “Y’all need to shut up about school shootings or I’ll do one.” A fellow student alerted police, who then arrested him on Monday and kept him overnight at a juvenile facility. Yesterday, the teen appeared in DuPage County juvenile court charged with felony disorderly conduct. There, Judge Robert Anderson ordered him placed under indefinite home detention and for his parents to hold on to his smartphone. More oddly, the judge also ordered him to stop playing violent video games during this period.
It’s still unclear what violent game the kid was playing during the Snapchat video, which his public defender called a joke in poor taste but not one intended as an actual threat. A report by the Daily Herald says a hashtag for a “post-apocalyptic war video game” was used in the social media post, although that doesn’t exactly narrow it down. A distinction was also apparently drawn between whichever game was on in the background of the video and other less violent ones. “You can play all the Mario Kart you want,” Anderson reportedly told the teen during the court appearance. It’s possible the judge thinks, as others like the President have recently expressed, that violent games and media are somewhat to blame for the recent wave of school gun violence.
When asked to elaborate on why that was part of the court’s decision and whether the judge has issued similar verdicts in the past, Anderson’s office told Kotaku it couldn’t comment on pending cases.
Two of Lake Park High School’s campuses were closed on Friday due to other threats of violence that were eventually deemed not to be credible. This was what the original Snapchat video referred to and also why Roselle police were on such high alert and acted so quickly in making the arrest. After searching the boy’s home, however, police did not find weapons. The teenager’s parents told the court they don’t own any guns.
“The case against this student epitomizes the need for parents to be involved and to monitor their children’s social media use,” said DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin in a press release.
Since the most recent mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, schools have had to contend with an influx of new possible shooter threats while also treating them all much more seriously. That’s in part because of all the warning signs leading up to the tragedy, including tips to the FBI and other concerns voiced about the shooter prior to the attack. There are already a number of instances in which other police departments have made arrests and pressed charges against teens threatening school shootings on social media or while playing games online.
It’s far rarer to see violent video games actually factor into a punishment. While it’d be hard for a court to make sure someone doesn’t play violent video games, the student could be subject to fines or even further incarceration if he is caught. The judge’s orders will stay in place at least until the case’s next court date, which is March 12.
[Update - 12:20pm, 3/1/2018] Ars Technica reports that banning the student’s access to violent video games came at the request of Assistant State’s Attorney Louisa Nuckolls who made a motion to make it a condition of his release. It wasn’t intended as a punishment a DuPage County state’s attorney spokesperson told Ars, but rather an extra precaution to “ensure that he was a successful home detention.”