I'm going to take a guess and say the national Terrorism Mood Ring is still set to 'OVERREACT' if this story is any indication. Cameron D'Ambrosio, a Methuen, MA high school student, was arrested May 1st and charged with "communicating terroristic threats" based on a Facebook posting. He is being held without bail pending a hearing on May 9th and could face up to 20 years in jail for making a "bomb threat."
The threat (at least the one that appeared on Facebook), as reported by the Boston Herald, reads as follows. (For best results, fill in the blanks Mad Libs-style and spell "bombing" correctly.)
This was posted to D'Ambrosio's Facebook page
, which looks altogether similar to thousands of teens' Facebook pages. (Source: I am the parent of a teenager.) Also, like thousands of Facebook-using teens, D'Ambrosio fancies himself a rapper
and his "threat" appears to be nothing more than some "lyrics" in search of a quality jeep beat
. (I'm dating myself with that last term.)
So, how does some par-for-the-course teenage Facebook post become a "threat?" Well, it takes a very specific chain of events. The official Methuen PD blog breaks it all down
(and throws a lot of exclamation points around in its headlines for some strange reason).
Today, Tuesday, May 1, 2013, at approximately 12:20, Methuen High School students reported to administration that they had received a Facebook phone message sent by a Methuen High School student with disturbing verbiage. The student made terrorist threats...
The administration acted quickly, contacted school service officer Jim Mellor, who then contacted the police department. The student was not in school but has since been located and placed under arrest. Administration working hand in hand with the Methuen Police Department, diffused the situation maintaining the best possible professional attitude.
In other words, some teens at the high school saw a status update posted by D'Ambrosio and told someone... who told someone. The rest is now
The PD arrested the student, charged him with "communicating terrorist threats" and locked him up pending a "dangerousness" hearing. But was it really a threat? Or was it just D'Ambrosio doing what teens do best -- attracting negative attention? That ellipsis in the quotation from the PD's blog takes the place of a sentence which seems to indicate this entire chain of events should never have happened.
These threats were in general and not directed towards another person or the school.
Non-specific threats are a bit problematic. There generally needs to be more going on than a Facebook post that indiscriminately "threatens" everyone who's able to read it. If it was targeted at specific people, perhaps it would be a more credible threat. (D'Ambrosio can
target his threats. According to the Boston Herald, he was charged last year with threatening to stab his sister to death, but the case has been dismissed. Read into that what you will...)
Then there's the wording itself that, when taken in context with D'Ambrosio's rap aspirations, tends to indicate this is simply poorly-worded braggadocio aimed at touting his "skills." The second "stanza" (?) even says "I’ma be famous rapping, and beat every murder charge that comes across me!" This makes the preceding line read more like "I'm going to be bigger than the Boston Bombing," not altogether unlike John Lennon's proclamation that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. Again, rap is full of this sort of self-aggrandizement and D'Ambrosio certainly listened to enough of the music to pick up the basics.
The opening "stanza" starts with "I'm not in reality," another commonality of rap music. Eminem used this as a defense against criticism, stating that Eminem was an alter ego and was far more outrageous than he, Marshall Mathers, was. "It's all an act," in other words. Stating "I'm not in reality" up front should temper any expectations of literality in what follows it. Of course, this rationalizing grants D'Ambrosio additional depth that he may not actually possess. Even so, anyone with a passing knowledge of the art form would know enough to steal a little "depth."
Despite all this, the Methuen police chief seems rather proud of his catch. A rather breathless writeup at The Valley Patriot
captures some rather ridiculous quotes from the man of the hour.
“He posted a threat in the form of rap where he mentioned the White House, the Boston Marathon bombing, and said ‘everybody you will see what I am going to do, kill people.”
If it was in the "form of a rap," there's a good chance this is protected speech, rather than a criminal act. Police chief Joe Solomon isn't helping his case by framing D'Ambrosio's words this way.
“I do want to make clear he did not make a specific threat against the school or any particular individuals but he did threaten to kill a bunch of people and specifically mentioned the Boston Marathon and the White House. The threat was disturbing enough for us to act and I think our officers did the right thing."
Strange. When I reread his words, I don't find him threatening to kill anyone
. He says he'll "go insane" and make "the news, the paper, the (expletive) federal house of horror the White House." "Go insane" is not
the same thing as threatening violence and its takes a lot of willingness to see something that's not actually there to believe it does. Sure, D'Ambrosio mentions
both the White House and the Boston bombing, but simply throwing those words into a sentence (and filling the rest out with expletives) doesn't turn this into a credible threat, or at least not one that should result in a 20-year sentence.
By all means, the police should be willing to investigate perceived threats, but putting this into context (your average profane, overdramatic, attention-seeking, rap fan teenager) should have resulted in little more than a discussion about the possibility
that word dumps like this could have negative consequences or legal repercussions.
The police also went to his home and seized D'Ambrosio's Xbox and laptop
, but were apparently unable to find anything to indicate the teenager was anything more than a mouthy misanthrope. So, they've decided to "dig deeper into his Facebook account."
Tom Duggan, president and publisher of The Valley Patriot, dug a little deeper himself, and reported back (breathlessly) about the "horrors" he found. (All quotes are verbatim, I poo you not.)
D’Ambrosio also had disturbing photos and posts on his Facebook page including “fug politics, fug Obama and fug the government!!”
He also had a “disturbing satanic photo posted as well as a photo of himself on a “Wanted Poster” that reads “Wanted Dead or Alive” a quick perusal of his Facebook page shows D’Ambrosio’s unusual interest in gangs, violence and a criminal lifestyle.
Wow. It's like reading a report from Morality in Media. A teen who wants to stick it to the Man with f-bombs and exclamation points? Do tell! An "unusual" interest in gangs, violence and criminals? Does this make him more or less disturbing
than a large majority of the teen population? Looking at his page, I notice D'Ambrosio also has an "unusual" interest
in scantily-clad females, video games, Monsters University, puppies, "fug Drugs Enjoy Life," the National Guard, tattoos and Mario. And as for the whole "disturbing satanic photo" -- a.) Duggan is about 30 years too late to join the satanic panic
, b.) the "photo" isn't actually a photo and c.) it's at least as comical as it is disturbing.
So, unless the police are holding some information back, it looks as if they've managed to turn a harmless bout of stupidity into a terrorist threat. Chief Solomon even credits the "see something, say something" travesty for helping the MPD corral this dangerous rapper. But while we're used to displays of immaturity from the young, there's no excusing the dangerous stupidity of zero tolerance policies, "see something, say something" and the police department's willingness to conjure up a threat out of little more than the use of "Boston" in a badly formed sentence.