Onteora School District superintendent Victoria McLaren was first called about a police investigation into an online threat against area schools between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. Thursday morning, March 1. A decision was made to send out a notice to the school community between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m.
“Last night, several community members contacted law enforcement to report a threat that was posted on social media yesterday by a former student. Law enforcement immediately investigated the threat and worked for several hours to ålocate this individual. Early this morning, he was located and taken into custody,” read the notice McLaren posted. “I am thankful that members of our community reported this situation so that law enforcement could begin the investigation. It is so important that anyone who sees a threat report it immediately so that we can work with law enforcement to take the appropriate steps to keep our schools safe. We are fortunate that through the efforts of our local law enforcement professionals this individual was located so quickly and that we can move forward knowing that this situation has been resolved.”
It was noted that Onteora schools would be open for the day, and at 9 a.m. McLaren amended her earlier statement by announcing a police presence at each of the district’s schools for the day.
“We are taking this step out of an abundance of caution and to provide reassurance to students, staff, and parents,” she wrote. “We understand that this is a distressing and anxious time. We remain vigilant and focused on the safety and well-being of our students.”
Taken into custody at approximately 4:30 a.m. Thursday morning was 23-year-old Henry L. Reilly, a Saugerties resident and former Onteora student who’s been working at various businesses around Woodstock over the years. Reilly’s brother Harold died of a drug overdose behind the Bank of America in Woodstock two winters ago, sparking a town-wide soul-searching that included a number of heavily-attended forums at Onteora through the winter of 2016.
According to Reilly’s father, Fionn, he first got a call a little after 3 a.m. that his son had been reported for posting a threatening statement on Facebook. The elder Reilly told police where his son could be found and by 4:30 a.m. the young man was in custody, facing a felony charge of making a terroristic threat. He was sent to Ulster County Jail in lieu $50,000 bail.
“I’m shooting the school,” was the statement Reilly was arrested for, after an earlier rant in which the school was not mentioned.
According to McLaren, notification of Reilly’s statement was made by “members of the school community. Parents, I believe.” She was contacted by Onteora’s school resource officer, who had been contacted by state police, the county’s sheriff’s office and Woodstock police, working together.
Another timeline for Reilly’s actions emerged from Facebook posts on the young man’s social media page, as well as a GoFundMe site launched March 2.
“On the 1st of March, Henry Lancelot Reilly was at a friend’s house drinking. In the early hours of the morning, Henry began posting messages to his Facebook. From there, he made some insensitive comments. These comments then led to an upset parent reporting his posts to the police. The police then tracked his whereabouts, and before 4 a.m., arrested Henry,” reads the crowdfunding site, which by press time had raised $601 towards a $5,000 goal set to be matched by the site’s originators, Ray Morris and Sabrina Hart. “…Any of you that know Henry or have been served by him will know and understand that this has been blown out of proportion and that he intends to apologize for his insensitive words, which he never intended to fulfil [sic]…Any contribution would be greatly appreciated.”
On Reilly’s Facebook page, others noted how the offending post had been taken down soon after it went up, and attempted to put it in context. Skirmishes broke out between posters about what sort of punishment fit such a case.
“Henry wouldn’t hurt a fly. He just lost his brother recently its Hard times. There no violence in words. This is what the internet has become,” wrote one commenter, a former local now drifted to the West Coast.
“Drunk words are sober thoughts. And if your blaming his loss of a brother that’s another reason. He’s depressed or ‘mentally ill’ and causing him to say this. Every other school shooter was mental ill or crazy. And they are dealing with there consequences, as should he wether he meant it or not. Its not a joke and not okay,” replied a young mother from the Rondout Valley.
By Wednesday, March 7, the Facebook infighting had disappeared. Remaining were some new comments about the many instances people had seen threats against liberals, Democrats and political figures online, as well as the amount of bail set for Reilly versus that set a few days earlier for a Saugerties father and son situation that involved threats and the discovery of a cache of firearms after the father said there were none.
On February 27, Saugerties police arrested a Saugerties High School student, 18 year old Connor Chargois, who used Snapchat to praise the Columbine High School killers on social media. His father, 58 year old Bruce Chargois, was also charged with third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and obstructing governmental administration after he was found to have a cache of firearms that he had originally denied having. Among the guns was a fully automatic 9mm Uzi, an AR15, various home-manufactured .22 and 9mm firearms and a quantity of ammunition. The father was released on his own recognizance while the son posted $10,000 bail and went free.
The local threats were among 797 since the Parkland, Florida school massacre on February 14 that have been tracked by the Educator’s School Safety Network, an Ohio-based nonprofit run by former teachers and school administrators to chart violence in our schools. Locally, other incidents have resulted in arrests in the Dutchess County towns of Hyde Park, Pine Plains, and Poughkeepsie.
Social media forum
According to Reilly’s father, his son’s situation represented a case of a young man’s raw attempts at irony, and inability to realize the ramifications of dealing with social media as a public forum.
Others pointed to the context in which the young Reilly’s comment was made, a thread that started with his statement: “Feed em, clothe em, give em a place to stay, while struggling myself. They still turn they back n they mouths on me. I’ve been on my own since I was 15.. I’ve had some help yes, but it’s harder for me then most my age around here. I never complained, only gave me sympathy for the other struggling youth. That sympathy only gave me scars in my back from u savages.”
Immediately following the Facebook statement that caused his arrest, one of Reilly’s friends commented, “Call me first,” while another asked what he meant.
Calls to Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright in regards to the high amount of bail requested in Reilly’s case, as well as a report that the young man would be offered a plea deal, went unanswered as of press time.
Reilly was set to appear in Woodstock Court before Judge Jason Lesko at 10 a.m. on March 7. Because of the threat of snow, that appointment was rescheduled until 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 8.
Onteora’s McLaren noted the importance of school communities feeling comfortable reporting all perceived threats immediately, while also expressing hopes that an upcoming forum on school safety issues, also postponed on March 7 (to the evening of March 12) “will prove helpful in bringing us together.”++