Appleton, WI— An Appleton, Wisconsin man was arrested over the weekend after allegedly sending a school shooting threat to the FBI, following more than 600 other messages sent to the agency over the last two months.
On February 19th, David Etheridge, 23, was charged with one count of making a terroristic threat and ordered held on a $10,000 cash bond. Bond conditions include no possession of dangerous weapons, being no closer than 1,000 feet of a school and abstain from all mind-altering substances except those prescribed by a doctor, according to the Post Crescent.
The criminal complaint filed in the Etheridge case, obtained by Action 2 News, states that the FBI had received 647 messages from Etheridge through the agency’s tip line over the past couple months, largely consisting of expletives and “religious talk,” with the only message about a school shooting threat coming on Saturday. Etheridge’s arrest took place on February 17th, after the FBI alerted Appleton police that the bureau had received an electronic message threatening to “shoot up the school” – without any particular school being specified.
“Many of them were just repeated vulgarities,” Sgt. Dave Lund of the Appleton Police Department told WBAY. “Some of them were, the best I can describe, ramblings. Many that just indicated annoyance.”
Outagamie District Attorney Melinda Tempelis told the court that there was a significant number of concerns related to Etheridge’s mental health and public safety, including that he believes he is receiving subliminal messages from his television.
“Certainly, the behaviors that he has been exhibiting — the mental health piece combined with the threats — provide a significant safety issue to the community,” Tempelis said.
Etheridge’s public defender Robert Welygan argued that contacting the FBI more than 600 times was not a sign of someone who was a threat, but rather, someone who needs mental health treatment. “Based on the allegations in the criminal complaint, it appears there is a very strong need for treatment and the best treatment is available here in the community, as opposed to in a confined setting,” Welygan said.
Police noted that they found “numerous” electronic devices and four hunting rifles in a safe during a search of Etheridge’s residence, but clarified in a statment, “The rifles and ammunition were typical of the hunting rifles and amount of ammunition found in many residences in our state.” Tempelis said she was unaware if Etheridge had access to the combination of the safe.
Action 2 News reports that Etheridge said he felt people were trying to hurt him, and described an extremely isolated high school experience that involved classmates humiliating and picking on him.
“When asked if those feelings were the reason he made the comment about the school shooting, he said yes, but he has been feeling like he doesn’t belong for a very long time,” reads the complaint.
When he was asked about threatening to shooting up the school, Etheridge promised he would not, according to the complaint. A preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 28.
The arrest of Etheridge follows the FBI coming under heavy criticism after it was revealed that the FBI had not acted on a tip that Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz wanted to “kill people,” according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and there was the “potential of him conducting a school shooting.”
The FBI acknowledged that a person close to Cruz had contacted the FBI to express concerns about disturbing social media posts and erratic behavior, but that information was never forwarded on to the Miami FBI field office, and “no further investigation was conducted at the time,” according to the FBI’s statement.
“Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life,” an FBI statement admitted. “We have determined that these protocols were not followed for the information received by the PAL on Jan. 5.”