A Texas man has been indicted by the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office for an alleged violent, racist posting in student group chat among Northern Burlington County Regional High School students.
Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina released an announcement on Jan. 15 that a 21-year-old Texas man was charged for posting a comment calling for racial violence in a group chat created by a Northern Burlington County Regional High School student in spring 2018.
Officials said Kenneth Petersen, of Texas, was indicted by a grand jury on one count of bias intimidation (fourth degree). The indictment was returned Jan. 9 and signed by Coffina.
According to an investigation by county officials, the enquiry began in May 2018 after a Northern Burlington student who had created a group chat to discuss senior pranks using the messaging app “GroupMe” received a message from a sender she did not know that suggested “all the black people at the school” should be shot.
Officials said the student informed her teacher and police were notified, but the comment raised particular concern in the school community because it was made as the 2018 graduation ceremony was approaching.
The Mansfield Township Police Department immediately provided an increased presence on the campus, and it was soon determined that the threat had come from out of state, and that no students or members of the staff were in immediate danger, according to officials.
The investigation revealed that the message was posted by Petersen, who was attending a university in Texas at the time, and he was arrested in September 2019 following a multi-agency investigation, officials said.
Officials said access to the group chat was available to anyone with a GroupMe account, and had been discussed by students on other social media platforms.
“It is not clear what led Petersen to target that particular group chat,” Coffina said.
Coffina also said that matters like this will be taken and handled with serious intent by the Prosecutor’s Office, and encouraged individuals to be mindful of what they post online.
“There can never be any tolerance for racially-motivated threats like this and, especially during recent times when we have seen threats escalate to actual acts of violence, law enforcement must respond with the utmost seriousness,” Coffina said. “You cannot hide behind a cell phone halfway across the country while spewing such hatred.”
The investigation was conducted by the Mansfield Township Police Department, with assistance from the BCPO, the New Jersey State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Tarleton State University Police Department in Stephenville, Texas.