An 18-year-old Cloquet man been charged with making threats to commit a crime of violence after he allegedly made comments on Facebook about committing "mass homicide" in Cloquet last month.
Randall Hunter Caldwell appeared in Sixth District Carlton County Court April 26, where he was charged with one felony count of "threats of violence" and bail was set at $50,000.
According to the criminal complaint, at approximately 7:41 p.m. April 16, the Cloquet Police Department began to investigate alleged threats posted on Facebook by Caldwell after witnesses sent them screenshots of several Facebook postings.
In one of the posts, which was circulated among some current Cloquet High School students that morning, Caldwell allegedly wrote: "What if I committed a large mass homicide in Cloquet, then killed myself last when the cops found me?"
Officers learned of more Facebook posts by Caldwell, in which he allegedly wrote: "Who would watch me go live and do something extremely f***g insane? Something you never probably seen before live. (sic) Who would watch?" He then allegedly wrote the words "Three more hours" in a large, colorful post.
According to the complaint, officers could not initially locate Caldwell, but eventually called a cellphone number they believed was his. A male answered, denied he was Caldwell and asked what he had done wrong before hanging up. Dispatch then pinged (attempted to track the location of) the cellphone, but it was shut off. It was pinged every 15 minutes all night until 6:43 a.m., when an active ping indicated the phone was back on. The ping indicated the phone was somewhere on Reponen or Moorhead roads. Police were aware of a home on the 1000 block of Reponen Road they checked earlier, but the homeowner had denied Caldwell was there.
According to the complaint, law enforcement officials went to the home, and eventually gained entrance and found Caldwell seated on the sofa. He was taken into custody without incident.
During the transportation to the jail, Caldwell allegedly told the officer he did not know law enforcement would "take a Facebook comment as seriously as they did." He also told the officer he was not feeling well psychologically, so he was taken to the hospital for an evaluation. He is now in custody at the Carlton County Jail. His next hearing is set for May 10.
Law enforcement officials weren't the only ones who took the alleged threats seriously.
The morning after the threats were first posted, a number of Cloquet students were sharing screenshots of Caldwell's initial post with each other and their parents, and many parents were grappling with decisions about sending their children to school with little to no information.
Then, at 7:49 a.m., the Cloquet School district sent out a message via email and robocall that students were being kept inside the schools with doors locked because of a "general threat" to the community. Just 7 minutes later, the district sent a new message that the suspect had been caught by police and schools would no longer be in lockdown.
Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said he first learned of the threat on his way to school at 6:52 a.m. April 17, when someone from the Carlton County Sheriff's Office called him to ask if he knew about the threat.
Regarding the fact that many kids knew about the threat before the district could send a message, Scarbrough called social media both a blessing and a curse.
"People need to evaluate the sources of the posts and be very careful not to make or post assumptions about important issues," the veteran superintendent said. "The assumptions can turn into false realities very quickly. Social media also can be a source of valuable information. If important or valuable information is on social media, people should not be afraid to contact appropriate authorities. We cannot assume that all people browse and know what all is on various sources of social media."
Scarbrough sent a longer email summary later April 16 to parents explaining the district's reaction and the plans that are in place to provide a secure place for students.
"Know that we continue to make student safety a priority and have recently spent hundreds of thousands of dollars providing improved physical security and surveillance of our school buildings," he wrote in closing. "Also know that we will continue to visit with emergency responders and assess situations to see how our responses may be improved."
The superintendent later confirmed later that overall attendance was down slightly the day of the threat: 87 percent on April 16, 84 percent on April 17 and 95 percent on April 18.
When asked why Cloquet police did not contact the superintendent, Police Chief Jeff Palmer said there was no direct link to the schools written in the threats, and that the department had to fact-check first. Each situation is unique, he said.
Commander Derek Randall, acting as the public information officer for the department, responded to similar questions from the Pine Journal after consulting with Palmer. Randall write that police knew Caldwell was not at or near the school, so they believed that sharing the information with the superintendent because of the age of the suspect and the students who knew or at least were propagating the information was sufficient.
"Had the suspect been a CHS student, made direct threats toward a student or a school, and his whereabouts were unknown, we would have responded differently," Randall wrote.
The police department does not have any general order or directives specific to situations such as the Facebook threats, Randall said.
"There are general best practices for these types of cases, but because of the dynamics and complexities of these events, a 'cookie-cutter' protocol is not realistic," Randall wrote. "That said, revisiting this issue sounds like a good idea."