LAWRENCE — The first call came in to the Methuen High School principal’s office at noon Wednesday, then a flood of calls from students alarmed by a threatening Facebook rant allegedly posted by a classmate boasting that he would outdo the Boston Marathon bombings.
The post, interspersed with foul language, said, “Ya’ll want me to [expletive] kill somebody?” and “[expletive] a Boston bombing wait till you see the [expletive] I do. I’m a be famous rapping, and beat every murder charge that comes across me!”
The posting did not say where any bombing would occur and did not single out any person or group.
The message circulated rapidly from an associate principal to a Methuen police officer assigned to the school to the Essex County district attorney’s office. By 1:35 p.m., Cameron D’Ambrosio, 18, was arrested for allegedly making a bomb threat, which included a reference to the White House, as he walked on Pleasant Street.
On Thursday morning he appeared emotionless as he stood in Lawrence District Court beside his attorney, Geoffrey DuBosque, who pleaded not guilty on his behalf to charges of making a bomb threat. Dressed in a blue T-shirt with the image of rapper ODB on the front, D’Ambrosio fidgeted briefly with the shackles on his legs and the cuffs on his hands during the proceeding.
Judge Lynn Rooney ordered him held without bail and to undergo a mental competency evaluation before his pretrial hearing next Thursday.
From the beginning, authorities said, they took the threat seriously, never seeing it as a prank.
“There are no more threats that are high school pranks,” said Joseph Solomon, police chief, during a press conference Thursday afternoon. “If they’re thinking that way, they need to get their heads into 2013.”
The details of the alleged crime were not discussed during the brief arraignment but some were available from a police report included in court records.
The arresting officer said he showed D’Ambrosio a printout of his Facebook page that contained the alleged threat and asked if he had posted it. D’Ambrosio responded “yes,” according to the police report.
“I then asked him to look at it again and make sure it was what he wrote and that there was no mistake, he again looked at it and stated he wrote and posted it,” the officer said.
Another police report in the court records said that last June, D’Ambrosio was arrested for allegedly threatening to stab and kill his sister in a dispute over $20. He was charged with assault and battery and making a threat to commit a crime, but the case was dismissed on April 17.
Numerous students walking home from the high school Thursday afternoon said they doubted D’Ambrosio would have acted on the alleged threats but his arrest was warranted.
“I don’t believe he would do something like that, but at the same time, you just can’t say those things and expect people to ignore them, because stuff like that has happened in schools,” said Scott Brady, 15.
Neighbor Steven Cuevas, 24, said he has known D’Ambrosio for three years and the teen often gets “picked on” by other students.
“I think when he made the threats, he was full of hatred . . . he gets picked on a lot,” he said. “People don’t really take him that serious because he acts like a wanna-be thug rapper.”
Cuevas called him “a good kid.”
“In my eye I don’t see him being that kind of person,” he said.
Solomon said at the press conference that the mention of the Marathon bombings and the White House significantly raised the level of the threat, and the reaction by students who said the arrest was justified shows a change of attitude by a society that is now attentive to warning signs.
“We had a significant amount of students nervous . . . I would like to thank those students, we talk all the time about bringing things forward, and they did that immediately,” Solomon said.
Last fall, Methuen High School had a similar experience. Jacob Butze-Maille, 17, was arrested after he allegedly told a fellow student, a 15-year-old girl, that he planned to carry out a Columbine-like mass shooting at the school. He allegedly threatened to kill the girl if she told anyone, but she reported the threat to school officials. Maille is awaiting trial.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings two weeks ago that killed three people and left more than 260 people injured and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut last December that left 20 children and six adults dead, more people are paying attention to possible warning signs, experts say.
“After a high-profile incident like the Boston bombings, you’re going to see everyone on pins and needles, a heightened awareness, a heightened level of seriousness to any threat that’s made,” said Ken Trump, the president of Cleveland -based National School Safety and Security Services, considered an expert on school threat assessment.
“Threats that used to take hours and days to get circulated now takes seconds,” Trump said. “The good news out of it all [in Methuen] is that the kids took it seriously and came forward.”