Laurino addresses spate of school threats in Essex

Photo Courtesy of Kathy Carter
Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert Laurino, at podium, speaks about recent threats made to area schools at a Feb. 27 press conference.

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert Laurino addressed recent threats made to schools in Essex County on Feb. 27, in the wake of the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14. He also spoke about the spike in threats that come after an incident like the one in Florida.

According to the prosecutor’s office, Michael Schmitt, 18, of West Caldwell was charged with false public alarm after he allegedly posted a threat against James Caldwell High School on social media on Feb. 24. And on Feb. 16, Joseph Rafanello, 18, of Nutley was also charged with false public alarm after an incident closed Nutley High School.

In addition, a Nutley 14-year-old and a Madison 13-year-old were charged with causing false public alarm for making a threat against Abundant Life Academy, a private school in Nutley. One was a current student, the other a former student at the school. Their names are being withheld because they are juveniles.

Laurino also addressed a threat made in Cedar Grove, which is currently under investigation, and one made against Bloomfield High School that is under investigation by the Bloomfield Police Department.

“These are crimes,” Laurino said at the press conference. On Feb. 26, John Coulouris, 19, of Hackensack entered a guilty plea before Judge Mark J. Nelson to eight counts related to threats made against Livingston High School posted on social media in 2016.

“School officials may suspend or expel as they see fit,” Laurino said. “Parents have to remain vigilant in paying attention to what their children are seeing on television, the internet and in video games.”

According to Laurino, the first threat made in Nutley occurred before the Florida shooting.

“It is not unusual to see a spike in threats like this after a tragic event,” he said. “A larger police presence is something that is up to the individual schools.”

Laurino also stressed that community members should not panic when they hear a threat is under investigation.

“We ask them to remain vigilant,” he said. “There should not be outright panic. As soon as we know, we will investigate it. We have a staff that is always prepared for that.”