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Beatings, guns among findings in Huntsville City Schools tip line

Published: Oct. 1, 2014 at 2:31 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 29, 2014 at 2:32 AM CDT
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Images of beatings and guns - both on display and being fired - are among items SAFE officials...
Images of beatings and guns - both on display and being fired - are among items SAFE officials find on social media. (Source: Facebook)

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - In a brief video clip, a young man in a neighborhood backyard struggles to work with an AK-47 assault rifle, then squeezes off a shot as two friends cheer.

The clip is posted on Facebook, and Huntsville City Schools security consultant Chris McRae summed up his analysis by saying, "There's just all kinds of things wrong and dangerous about that."

Formerly with the FBI and now with the school system's SAFE (Students Against Fear) initiative, McRae said he has discovered a variety of online threats, weapons and violence in the course of investigating Huntsville students who may bring violence into school grounds or to school activities like football games.

'It continues to stun me how frequent it is that some of these students that we've dealt with so far has a long history of disciplinary problems," said McRae. "They'll get on social media and post themselves posing with weapons, with what appear to be drugs. They post comments with threats. There are comments that communicate their intent behind possessing the weapons.

Histories of disciplinary problems, or warnings from other students, teachers, parents, even a janitor, are what McRae said has led SAFE investigators to look for possible social media activity illustrative of a threat.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media posts come to light as part of broader investigations, he said.

"We don't monitor Facebook. We do very selective targeted reviews and they're based on tips that come in."

SAFE has run into controversy after recent media reports characterizing it as a Big Brother-esque initiative sifting through student social media activity.

"The stories are wrong," McRae said. "They've been mischaracterized. There's partial truths and partial accuracies in some of the stories. And then there are some blatant errors in other parts of the story. We are reacting to specific tips, specific link analysis."

McRae said once the SAFE office uncovers potentially dangerous situations, its findings are passed to school counselors or to the school system's school resource officer police force for action.

Superintendent Casey Wardynski says SAFE's findings are routinely also shared with the Huntsville School Board when it must consider disciplinary actions such as expulsions.

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