Northern Michigan Law Enforcement, Prosecutors Explain Seriousness Of School Threat Charges

Cullen Shafer, a Manistee County teen accused of threatening to shoot up Brethren High School a couple weeks ago, was back in court for a probable cause conference on Wednesday.

Shafer is charged with a felony threat of terrorism after deputies say they were contacted by the school about the comments he made.

Deputies interviewed Shafer and say he admitted to making the comments, but said he was joking.

They confiscated an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle from his home.

After Wednesday’s court appearance, we know Shafer’s preliminary hearing is set for next month.

If he’s convicted, Shafer is facing 20 years in prison.

“There are no jokes anymore unfortunately, so if you make a comment you can expect to be interviewed by law enforcement,” says Lt. Brian Gutowski, Manistee County Sheriff’s Office.

That’s exactly what deputies did after they say Cullen Shafer made threats.

“We use different avenues, one of them is interviews, speaking with parents especially if they are child age, to get a feel for what’s going on at the home. We also look at their school to see what the behavior has been like at school, so there’s many facets that do to come up with the end result,” says Gutowski.

Shafer said he was only kidding.

But after talking to prosecutors Wednesday, we learned the charges involved are very serious.

“These types of crimes are different than other types of crimes like larceny or homicide. Disruption of the schools, the fear that it puts in a community, people’s lack of feeling safe, that is the type of action we’re trying to punish,” says Jonathon Hauswirth, Manistee County Chief Assistant Prosecutor.

And if a student making the threat claims it was a joke, “in the criminal law its put right into the stature that joking is not a defense to that type of case, so just making that threat is the crime itself,” says Hauswirth.

As these kinds of threats continue to cause problems in northern Michigan schools, prosecutors say communication to kids is key.

“People have to communicate their concerns and law enforcement has to follow up on those concerns. I urge parents and educators to continue to have these conversations with their kids and students and explain to them the ramifications of making false threats,” says Bob Cooney, Grand Traverse County Prosecutor.

To report a confidential tip on criminal activity or harm directed at students, school employees and schools please call the OK2SAY tip line at 855-565-2729 or text 652729.