CAMDEN, New Jersey – A 14-year-old girl has been charged for allegedly leaving a "hit list" in the bathroom of her high school, one of several apparent pranks that set off criminal investigations into school threats in New Jersey this week, including a note threatening a massacre similar to the recent shooting rampage at an Amish school.
The girl, whose name was not released by authorities when her arrest was announced Friday, is a freshman at Eastern Regional High School in the Philadelphia suburb of Voorhees. She was charged with terroristic threats — a crime for which someone her age cannot be prosecuted as an adult. She faces up to two years in juvenile detention, though acting Camden County Prosecutor James P. Lynch said he may seek a lesser sentence if she is convicted. He said the girl, who expressed remorse, was released to the custody of her parents.
Investigators in central New Jersey also were looking into recent threats against schools there.
Letters sent to the East Windsor and Middletown Township Municipal Courts, the Milford Board of Education and the Times of Trenton newspaper warned, "We are going to take a walk through one of your elementary schools. It's going to be Amish School House Week," a reference to the schoolhouse shootings that left five girls dead last month in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. A 32-year-old milk truck driver killed himself after shooting the Amish girls.
The letters, postmarked in Trenton, were signed "Dick Lewis" and accused police of racial profiling. All the letters were received Wednesday.
Lynch, the Camden County prosecutor, said the girl's list, which contained the names of 17 students, was found behind a toilet on Tuesday. Lynch said it appeared to be a prank and the girl had no access to weapons or intention to physically hurt anyone.
Investigators are also trying to crack a second, similar case in the same high school.
On Monday, a hit list with 16 names was found written on the wall of a boys' bathroom in the school.
Lynch said that in the light of school shootings in the last decade or so, such cases must be taken seriously, even if they appear far-fetched or may be pranks.
"When I use the word, 'prank,' I'm referring to it from the standpoint of the perpetrator," Lynch said. "For law enforcement, it's a crime."
Eastern High School has remained open since the lists were discovered — but with additional security measures.
While there have been similar threats in schools across the country, Camden County seems to be a hotbed for these problems. In 2003, three boys were charged with taking guns into the streets of Oaklyn and planning a shooting spree. Earlier this year, four boys were charged with plotting a shooting spree in Winslow Township.
No one was hurt in any of those cases and all seven of the boys pleaded guilty.