Internet trolls are hardly a new problem; It’s hard to go anywhere without running into someone whose entire online life revolves around getting laughs via other people’s misery. But some trolls are more problematic than others. It’s one thing to pop up whenever someone tweets about Star Trek and complain that Enterprise was never given time to prove itself, but it’s another thing to create a false Facebook account to scare an entire high school with death threats.
The latter example isn’t hypothetical, sadly. A British man named Reece Elliott has admitted to a British crown court that he did that very thing, pleading guilty to one count of threatening to kill and eight of sending grossly offensive messages as a result of his online actions in the weeks following the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Elliott, a 24 year-old father of one, posted messages under a false name on a tribute page to Caitlin Talley, a 17 year-old high school student at Warren County High School in Tennessee who had died in a car accident last October. In one message, he wrote “I’m glad the fat bitch is dead. Let’s drink to drink-driving. No-one gives a shit that she’s dead, get over it. If I was there now I would rape you.” In another, he wrote “My father has three guns. I’m planning on killing him first and putting him in a dumpster. Then I’m taking the motor and I’m going in fast. I’m gonna kill hopefully at least 200 before I kill myself. So you want to tell the deputy, I’m on my way.” In a third, “I’m killing 200 people minimum at school. I will be on CNN.”
As a result of Elliott’s messages, schools across the area went into lockdown, with around 3,000 children kept home by worried parents. “Inquiries made by the FBI and Homeland Security managed to trace the user name to an address in this area,” said Gary Buckley, the lawyer prosecuting Elliott. “The American authorities contacted police and various inquiries were made in order to identify who made these postings. It would appear that Reece Elliott was well aware that he was wanted. He handed himself into South Shields police station.”
Buckley continued, “He confirmed he did post the postings on Facebook and therefore did make these threats but he didn’t expect the threats to be taken seriously and didn’t expect them to cause the reaction they did.”
Elliott remains in custody, awaiting sentencing on June 10. According to Judge James Goss QC, “A prison sentence is of course the inevitable sentence in respect of these offenses.”