An internet threat that shut down Columbine High School for two days led the FBI far from Colorado to a Florida teen-ager.
Michael Ian Campbell, 18, was charged on Dec. 17 with using an interstate communications facility to threaten injury to a person, after he admitted to FBI agents that he sent the message. The charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Campbell’s mother said her son told her, “I was bored to death.”
A 16-year-old Columbine student received the message the night of Dec. 15 and reported it to Colorado authorities. The message threatened to “finish what begun,” in reference to the April 20 shootings in which two gunmen killed 13 people before committing suicide.
Because of the threat, classes at Columbine were canceled Dec. 16 and 17, forcing the postponement of some final exams until after the holidays. It was the first time the school was shut since classes resumed in August.
Public defender Martin DerOvanesian tried to downplay the severity of the incident. “This was a threat that was not phoned into the school, that was not relayed to a school official,” he said.
But Thomas Strickland, U.S. Attorney for the Denver district, argued, “The Columbine tragedy has taught us all that we cannot afford to ignore any threat, no matter how farfetched it might at first appear.” Strickland said Campbell would be prosecuted in Colorado.
The sender of the instant message used the screen name “Soup 81” and authorities obtained a court order in Denver that forced internet service provider America Online to disclose details about an account holder using that name. FBI agents searched the Campbell’s house early on the morning of Dec. 17, and officials said Campbell admitted sending the message.