Police investigating after violent, threatening emails sent to 5,000 students and parents

Police investigating after violent, threatening emails sent to 5,000 students and parents

GARDNER, Mass. — A criminal investigation is underway in Gardner after police announced that violent and racist emails were sent to 5,000 students and parents in the local school district.

According to the Schools Superintendent Mark Pellegrino, the two emails were sent out just after midnight on Saturday, and one of the emails contained a threat to bomb one of the schools on Sunday.

“I don’t know that I have words that will truly describe how horrific these emails were,” Pellegrino told Boston 25 News over a Zoom interview. “There were some that were racist in nature, there were some with pictures that were graphically morbid.”

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According to Gardner Police, whoever sent the mass emails accessed a website called PlusPortals.com, a vendor the district uses for students and faculty to communicate.

“It allowed them to broadcast emails, so send multiple emails to large groups of people,” Pellegrino said.

He added that while the emails were linked to a student or students names, it does not necessarily mean they were the ones who sent the messages.

“I think it’s really important that people separate this student account from the person who authored the emails,” he said. “We don’t know that it was the student account, because there was a name that was tied to these emails. I’m very concerned for that student because often times we’re just jumping in and making some assumptions, and I want to make sure people don’t do that.”

In a press release, Gardner Police announced they did a sweep of all school buildings on Saturday and deemed them safe.

Still, many parents were vocal on social media and expressed that they were horrified after their children opened the emails.

Boston 25 News spoke to a 14-year-old who said she opened them around 1 a.m.

Wanting to remain anonymous, the girl said: “I’m 14. So I already have pretty bad anxiety and paranoia as it is, and get nervous at very minor things so I’m sure you can understand why I would be so creeped out and now anxious due to this. I barely slept last night due to it, so it bothers me that the school would allow something like this to happen.”

The threats of violence come as students in Gardner are expected to move to a hybrid learning model and return to the classroom on Thursday.

“This is clearly just one more obstacle to us coming back to some sense of normalcy with our students,” said Pellegrino. “The biggest thing that we’re concerned about is students feeling safe about coming back in school, parents feeling safe about their kids coming back in school, and frankly dealing with the emotional trauma of going through this type of experience.”

Pellegrino said the district will be adding a police presence at each school when students return this week, and that counselors will be made available to anyone who needs them.

“The schools are safe, and we are going to obviously on Thursday when students are returning physically to school... there will be a police presence,” Pellegrino said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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