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McLean faces school shooting scare

School administration met with barrage of warnings surrounding online comments implying threat to school
Safety+and+Security+Specialist+Bart+Bailey+discusses+the+significance+of+painting+the+school+rock+for+Black+History+Month+in+a+video+shot+by+McLeans+News+Channel%2C+WHMS+News.+Quietkid4+screenshotted+a+frame+of+the+video+and+posted+it+to+Reddit%2C+claiming+the+rock+was+his+schools.
Safety and Security Specialist Bart Bailey discusses the significance of painting the school rock for Black History Month in a video shot by McLean’s News Channel, WHMS News. Quietkid4 screenshotted a frame of the video and posted it to Reddit, claiming the rock was his school’s.

“Is this the rock from your school?”

These words echoed in junior Sagan Pandita’s mind as he read sentence after sentence and viewed screenshot after screenshot suggesting a McLean student was planning to commit a mass shooting in early May.

Pandita, along with many other students, was first contacted on April 25 by Instagram user changedbear2117, an unrecognized account that claimed to be reaching out in good faith to warn the school. Changedbear2117 sent him a document of evidence compiling screenshots from Discord, a popular messaging app, and Reddit, a popular online forum. The document also featured an in-depth analysis of any references or pictures the supposed student threat posted.

Nearly a month before this, McLean administrators received a call from two concerned out-of-state residents warning that a McLean student, whom the out-of-state residents met online, planned to take his own life. The callers determined that the supposed student attended McLean by cross-referencing online photos of McLean’s rock with a photo posted on Reddit.

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This person was very specific on not making a direct threat. There was nothing that said, ‘I’m going to do the following.’”

— Scott Davis, School Resource Officer

The administration immediately called in the school’s Student Resource Officer, Scott Davis. After looking into the supposed student’s Reddit posts, it was quickly determined that the supposed student—Reddit user quietkid4—did not attend McLean.

One major clue that immediately stood out to the administration was his self-reported birthday on Oct. 17.

“He said his birthday was October 17. That was the first thing we looked at,” Principal Ellen Reilly said. “There’s nobody in our entire school that has a birthday on October 17.”

Another clue indicating quietkid4 wasn’t a student at McLean was a piece of artwork he claimed to submit.

“He said that he turned in some artwork [one] day of a self-portrait,” Reilly said. “So I took a picture of that, and I sent it to all the art teachers. And I said, ‘Did anybody turn in this artwork?’ And they said, ‘Nobody did that.’”

Davis quickly started investigating, creating a comprehensive report of quietkid4’s online presence. This report was sent to detectives in the Fairfax County Police Department. From there, the FBI picked up the report, which traced it to a Texas resident whose identity has not been revealed.

According to Reilly, quietkid4 concocted the story and disguised himself as a McLean student.

“The [FBI] went to his home and talked to him about it,” Reilly said. “He admitted that he had created and made up this whole thing on his own.”

However, according to Davis, quietkid4 technically didn’t commit a crime. By merely implying an attack on the school rather than making explicit admissions, he was able to escape legal repercussions.

This person was very specific on not making a direct threat,” Davis said. “There was nothing that said, ‘I’m going to do the following.’”

Reilly believes quietkid4 purposely planted false information suggesting he attended McLean as part of a larger, calculated scare.

“He started making it kind of look like it belonged to McLean,” Reilly said. “He went out of his way to make it look like McLean when he used [our] teacher’s name [in a post]. And then he said our graduation date.”

Davis holds that quietkid4 was able to find this information on the Internet and weave it into his posts to mislead people.

The [FBI] went to his home and talked to him about it. He admitted that he had created and made up this whole thing on his own.”

— Ellen Reilly, Principal

“You can search up McLean High School graduation date. That’s public information,” Davis said. “You can look up our school and get pictures and stuff like that. You can go through Instagram and find information on our school. It’s pretty readily available.”

Fortunately, according to Reilly, the FBI was still able to put an end to his posts.

“He hasn’t posted since April 9th,” Reilly said. “It’s because they shut it down.”

While quietkid4 stopped posting, his old post still remained up. Weeks after the administration believed the case to be closed, students started getting messages warning them that quietkid4 intended to carry out a shooting.

While the administration understood that it was all a hoax, students were in the dark, inducing panic among some students and parents. Students began to send the document of evidence to their peers, and eventually, it spread throughout the school.

“Whoever this person is who wrote up this big document and initially sent it to Officer Davis and me keeps sending it to different people,” Reilly said. “I don’t know what his deal is or why he keeps sending it to everybody. Somebody at McLean got a hold of it, and then they sent it, and their friends sent it. We kind of created our own mass chaos by forwarding it on to everybody.”

Concerned and unaware that the administration was familiar with the situation, students and parents began reaching out to the administration and police.

To quell the panic, Reilly sent an email to parents on April 26 and later re-sent the email on May 2 after even more students and parents reached out.

“Dear Parents and Guardians,
I wanted to address concerns that have been coming into the office from students and families. Students have shared that they have received messages through social media from someone who claims to be a student at McLean High School. This same person presence has made concerning statements about a threat to harm themself.
Our administration has been looking into this for several weeks. We have been working with Fairfax County Police as well as our Office of Safety and Security and Cybersecurity. Through this investigation, it has been determined that this person does not live in Virginia and appears to have no connection to our school.
If your student has any further information or has been contacted by this online presence (changedbear2117 or QuietKid4), please have them reach out to me. [email protected].
Thank you for being our partner in keeping our schools a safe place to learn.”
Ellen Reilly, Principal

Yet despite Reilly’s assurance that quietkid4 was not affiliated with McLean or Northern Virginia in any way, some students weren’t completely convinced. Perhaps the most concrete evidence keeping students on the fence was a photo of McLean’s school rock quietkid4 posted on Feb. 20, titled “My school’s black history month rock.”

However, upon further examination, it is evident that quietkid4 screenshotted a frame of a video posted to the WHMS News Show’s YouTube account covering the painting of the rock. By screenshotting a video, he effectively bypassed image search, leading students to believe the photo he posted was original when it wasn’t.

McLean's WMHS news channel posted this video on Feb. 14. During several parts of the video, such as at 58 seconds, the frame which quietkid4 used in his Reddit post can be seen.

While many students ultimately reached out to try to warn the administration, others had significant reservations, fearing the implications of reporting the incident.

“I was kind of scared because I had this belief that if I reported anything, I would automatically be a suspect,” Pandita said. “That was also the reason why my parents were reluctant to tell the school. They were scared that I would be in trouble if I told them.”

Regardless, the administration believes the McLean community handled the situation smoothly.

“I’m just happy that people are willing to forward these things to us to let us know,” Reilly said. “It shows us that people are going to share this and say this person needs help. Nobody’s going to keep [things like] this hidden. People didn’t sit on it and say, ‘Oh my gosh, did you hear?’ They came immediately to people to get help.”

Reilly is also proud of how parents navigated the affair, involving themselves by supporting their students.

“I was impressed by how many parents took the time to talk to their students about what was happening. Parents need to remember that kids will always go to them first,” Reilly said. “There were a lot of parents who spent [not only] a lot of time talking to their child about this, about what it meant, about their safety and their well-being, but also the well-being of another student.”

This story was originally published on The Highlander on May 13, 2024.