BERKELEY HEIGHTS — A Maryland teenager was arrested and charged Monday night with sending a threatening message via the internet saying students in Berkeley Heights were in danger of being shot while in school, Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow said.
Using an Xbox Live account, the teenager was able to obtain the user name and password of a Berkeley Heights High School student following an online transaction involving the Madden NFL game, said Romankow. The transaction was on a third party website and not connected to either Microsoft or the game developer.
“After obtaining this user name and password, the Maryland teenager sent a message to nearly 100 people, including students at Berkeley Heights High School pretending to be the user,” said Romankow. In the message, the teen said he was going to bring a gun to school the following day and would be shooting fellow students.
The message was sent on Jan. 25 at 10:48p.m., said Romankow. Several concerned parents of students notified the Berkeley Heights Police Department within several hours of the message being sent.
An investigation was immediately launched by the Berkeley Heights Police Department who sought additional help from the Prosecutor’s Office High Tech Unit, said Romankow. Detectives were able to identify the user name and track it to a freshman student in town.
The student denied sending the message and as user name logs came in from Microsoft, which runs Xbox, it was determined that the message originated from a location in Maryland.
Members of the High Tech Unit and Berkeley Heights Police Department traveled to Maryland Monday and worked with local officials where they arrested and charged the accused Maryland teenager. The investigation revealed that the teenager in question had conducted an online transaction with the New Jersey teen a few hours before sending the threat.
“At no time were students in Berkeley Heights in any danger,” said Romankow. “This appears to be a teenage prank.”
The Berkeley Heights teenager had no previous knowledge that his user name or password had been stolen and was not charged in the case.
“This highlights another online danger that parents should be aware of,” said Romankow. “There are multiple ways teenagers today can communicate with each other. This Berkeley Heights student was simply trying to play a game, and his online account was used for a criminal purpose.”
Romankow urged parents and guardians to get more involved with their children’s internet activities and to take the time to educate themselves with the particular programs and devices children use to communicate with one another.
Romankow commended Prosecutor’s Office Detectives Richard Gregory and Glen Grusinski and Sgt. Joseph Williams of the Berkeley Heights Police Department.
The Maryland teenager will be charged locally, authorities said.
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