San Juan man charged with school threats on social media

EDINBURG — A San Juan man was arraigned in municipal court here Monday on charges stemming from threats he allegedly made to several Rio Grande Valley schools on social media.

Gustavo Garcia, 18, was charged with terroristic threat and exhibition, use, or threat of exhibition or use of firearms, both third degree felonies.

Garcia’s combined bonds total half a million dollars, and he says that he’s hired an attorney.

Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios told Garcia that he would be barred from using social media and the internet as a condition of his bond.

“Any type of social media or cellphone, internet or any of that stuff. Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram. That’s going to be a condition, not going to be on that type of social media,” Palacios said. “If we find out that you were on that type of social media, I will revoke your bond.”

Speaking to media after the arraignment, Edinburg CISD Police Chief Ricardo Perez Jr. said that Garcia was arrested for a “posting he placed yesterday on social media, on Snapchat.

“Our students received that information and they quickly alerted our campus administrators and police forwarded that information to our investigations division,” he said. “We felt that it was terroristic in nature.”

Perez says school district police joined PSJA ISD police and the Texas Rangers to apprehend Garcia.

“He was charged by PSJA ISD Police Department and Edinburg CISD Police Department as a result of the threats that he placed on social media,” Perez said. “We want to make sure that if anybody threatens our schools or makes threats in nature like that, that the police will investigate diligently and that there’s consequences for making those types of threats.”

According to Perez, Garcia is not a student at Edinburg CISD and the threat is the most serious he’s seen in the district in the last two years

Perez confirmed that the threat was posed to Robert Vela High and PSJA ISD.

“PSJA also charged this individual as well, I know that the police department for the school district filed charges as well. Two charges, same as ours, and he was arraigned earlier this afternoon,” he said.

A third entity was also threatened, Perez said, but it wasn’t clear which entity the threat was aimed at.

“The other one we’re not sure, it was just two letters of the alphabet, so we’re not exactly sure what those letters were,” he said.

Edinburg CISD and PSJA both issued statements addressing the threat. The statement from Edinburg said that students were safe and that extra security had been posted at Robert Vela High, while the statement from PSJA confirmed a suspect had been taken into custody and that “students were not in any imminent danger.”

Although it was not specifically threatened, McAllen ISD also issued a statement addressing the threat.

“At no time, were any McAllen schools threatened,” the statement read. “The person making the threat is in custody. Again, there was no threat made to a McAllen ISD campus.”

Perez said he couldn’t release the actual messages because of the ongoing investigation, but his description of the threat is consistent with screenshots of two Snapchat messages shared widely on social media Monday.

One message is a photo of a piece of paper with Bears, Robert Vela, Raiders and MH written on it. The mascot of PSJA High is the Bear and the mascot of PSJA North is the Raider.

The other message is a photo of a hand holding a rifle.

In the messages, the sender says he intended to get vengeance on bullies at different schools.

Perez encouraged anyone who sees a threatening post on social media to report it to the authorities.

“If there is a concern, report it to the police department right away. Police have investigators in place, and they also have cyber media police officers that look at the cybercrimes, and they’ll see if those crimes are something that needs to be looked into right away, if it’s a concern to the community,” he said.

mwilson@themonitor.com