MOULTON — The mother of a student who received a text-message threat that led Lawrence County High School to go on lockdown Wednesday said authorities overreacted, and Mason Stillwell, 18, should never have been charged with making a terrorist threat.
Myra Ball Ritch said Thursday that she believes her daughter was seeking attention when she reported the text message to a school counselor and that Stillwell should not face a felony charge.
Moulton Police Chief Lyndon McWhorter said he stands by the arrest and the department’s response. The school was placed on lockdown for more than three hours, and Lawrence County deputies joined Moulton police at the school.
The name of Ritch’s daughter has not been released because she is a minor, but Stillwell is charged as an adult because he is 18. He graduated from Lawrence County High in May.
Stillwell is out of jail on $2,500 bail.
McWhorter and Ritch even disagree about the content of the text message.
“This was a conversation between an 18-year-old and a 16-year-old, boyfriend and girlfriend,” Ritch said. “He didn’t say anything about killing anyone at the school.”
Ritch said Stillwell became jealous over another boy.
“The text said, ‘I’m going to (expletive) kill you and anybody who messes with you,’ ” Ritch said. “I don’t think he really meant to kill anyone.”
McWhorter reported a different version.
“The message said he was going to school tomorrow and kill everyone who ever (expletive) with him,” McWhorter said.
McWhorter said he did not confiscate the teenagers’ cellphones.
Ritch, who lives in Speake and has two daughters who are juniors at Lawrence County High, said the daughter who reported Stillwell didn’t think he would be in so much trouble.
Ritch accused law enforcement of charging the teen with a felony to justify the time and money spent on the lockdown and the investigation. She did not fault the school for going into lockdown.
“After Columbine and all of those other school shootings, they should react with a lockdown to any possible threat,” Ritch said.
But “there’s got to be some kind of evaluation if this is a real threat or not a real threat,” she said. “(Stillwell) didn’t know my stupid daughter wanted attention.”
Ritch said Stillwell could have been charged with misdemeanor harassment.
“All the police wanted to see was the one text,” Ritch said. “They didn’t want to see the 10 texts he sent before or the 10 he sent after that text.”
McWhorter said the terrorist charge fits the offense. He said the girl obviously felt threatened enough to report the text.
“If there’s a threat to go to a school and kill people, I’m not going to apologize,” McWhorter said. “No matter how serious the suspect is about making the threat, we have to take all threats seriously, whether they mean it or not.”
Ritch said she knows Stillwell wasn’t dangerous. She said he left his car at her house after attending church Sunday with her daughter, so he didn’t have a way to the school from his Trinity home.
He also didn’t have access to weapons, she said.
Ritch said Stillwell made good grades in high school and planned to start college in January.
Lawrence County District Attorney Eric Jett was not available for comment.
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