Pasco Sheriff: School shooting threats now a felony

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A new state law classifying school shooting threats as second degree felonies takes effect Saturday.

Starting October 1, 2016, the new law closes a loophole that limits school shooting threats to misdemeanor crimes.

According to Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, deputies can only charge someone with a misdemeanor crime if the school shooting threat is discovered during school hours. The crime, "disrupting a school function," does not apply to threats uncovered outside school hours.

"Words have meaning. For a lot of kids out there, they think everything is just a prank. They can say whatever they want and there are no consequences. It goes back to I what I said," Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco shared during a press conference Thursday. "Words have meaning. This bill is going to clearly state it because there are going to be consequences for negative actions."

The law takes effect two years after a teenager posted a picture online and threatened to open fire at Land O' Lakes High School. Officials intervened before the teenager could take action. The Pasco County School Superintendent tells Fox 13 the district has addressed three incidents involving shooting threats since the 2016 school year began.

"With highly publicized real school shootings... sadly the timing is appropriate," said Superintendent Kurt Browning of the new law. "When someone makes what they consider a joke to shoot up a school, people panic."

A student described the impact of threats on her school experience:

"The first time there was a threat on the school, it wasn't a joke," said Laura Leveridge. "It was very serious because what if something did happen? What if someone did shoot up the school? I ended up staying home for two days because of it."

Bomb threats are also considered second degree felonies.