It was a “disturbing” scene of school violence, the authorities said. Five students were lined up in a row to be shot by a gunman, with two others already on the ground in pools of blood. Another figure, ablaze, ran from a schoolhouse that was going up in flames.
The words “pew, pew, pew” mimicked the sound of bullets being fired in rapid succession.
These were the images that a teacher at Port St. Joe Elementary School in northwest Florida found scrawled in pen on a fourth-grade student’s homework assignment on Friday.
The school called the authorities, and the student’s stepfather, Robert Paul Alexander Edwards of Mexico Beach, Fla., was arrested later that day, according to a statement from the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office and an affidavit obtained on Monday.
Mr. Edwards, 33, told investigators that he had drawn the picture knowing it was to be delivered to the school as part of the student’s homework, and he was charged with a second-degree felony for sending a written threat to kill or do bodily injury, the documents said.
The sheriff’s office said it did not believe Mr. Edwards was planning to carry out the actions depicted in the drawing. There was no information about the suspect’s motive.
The discovery at the school in Port St. Joe, a coastal bay city of about 3,400 people, touched a nerve in a state that has confronted gun violence on school grounds and in other public places over the years.
“Our country has been affected one too many times with horrific school tragedies,” Sheriff Mike Harrison said. “We take matters like this very seriously.”
The sheriff said in a telephone interview that Mr. Edwards “did not have a lot of explanation other than that he didn’t intend to do anything like this and it was a, I believe, in his words, a childish mistake.”
William B. Payne, a felony criminal investigator and public records coordinator at the Office of the State Attorney, said Monday that the case was still in its “infancy” and that he had no immediate information about whether Mr. Edwards had a lawyer. The suspect’s first appearance in court would have taken place within 24 hours of his arrest, Mr. Payne said.
He added that recent cases with the same charges had mostly involved schools and juvenile suspects, but that those suspects had directed their threats at a specific person, such as engraving bullets with someone’s name.
The suspect was being held on $150,000 bond, Jim Norton, the superintendent of Gulf District Schools, said on Monday.
The student at the elementary school had handed a teacher the spelling homework assignment on which the drawing was made, Mr. Norton said in a telephone interview. “This is a new era when you have to look at all angles, when you see something from right field, where it would depict something so horrible,” he said.
“We can’t afford to sit on something, so we did react to it,” he added. “Whether the issue was poor taste or an actual threat, that is not for us to separate right there. We have to err on the side of safety.”
On the sheriff’s Facebook page, more than 100 readers commented on the arrest.
One man identified Mr. Edwards as a tattoo artist in the Port St. Joe area who goes by the trade name ‘Purdy Boy Rob,’ saying he “jokes around a lot.”
“Anyone who knows him knows he likes offensive jokes,” the man wrote.
“This is not a laughing matter,” another wrote. “The last thing we need in Gulf County is any threat to our community. Threat or offensive art, I support the decision of Gulf County Sheriff’s office to apprehend this fellow.”
Source: NY Times