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Teen charged with seven felonies related to threats made on Wikipedia, Wikinews interviews administrator who contacted police

Friday, April 25, 2008

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A 15-year-old boy, arrested last Friday in conjunction with criminal threats made on Wikipedia, was charged Thursday with seven felonies in Pomona Juvenile Court in Pomona, California. Prosecutors stated that the teen posted two threats on Wikipedia, saying that six named students as well as members of his school's badminton team would be shot. The court arraignment had initially been set for Tuesday, but was continued until Thursday. Wikinews interviewed the Wikipedia administrator who contacted police after the threats had been made on the site.

Though officials had said the boy made a full confession that he had made threats to other students via the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, he denied the charges at the Thursday court petition. The court ordered that he remain detained pending a May 9 scheduled appearance before Pomona Juvenile Court. He has remained in custody since his arrest.

The threats were made via two separate edits to the Wikipedia article about Glen A. Wilson High School in Hacienda Heights, California on April 16. Wikipedia administrators were made aware of the threats in a post to the "Administrators' noticeboard" on April 16 by Wikipedia admin Dreadstar. Another Wikipedia administrator, John Reaves, contacted the police in Los Angeles, California, and helped them work with the Internet service provider to find more information on the IP address that made the threat. A third Wikipedia administrator, Persian Poet Gal, removed the threats from the edit history of the article after finding out that the student had been arrested.

Students' backpacks were searched prior to entering Glen A. Wilson High School on April 17 and all after-school activities were canceled that day. All classes were canceled April 18, and classes resumed on Monday.

Interview

 
Administrators' noticeboard thread from English Wikipedia where administrators discussed a threat made on the site.

Wikinews interviewed Wikipedia administrator John Reaves, the administrator who contacted police in Los Angeles about the threats made on Wikipedia.

 ((Wikinews )) Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by Wikinews about your part in the incident previously covered in the Wikinews article: "California student arrested in criminal threats made on Wikipedia". How long have you been an administrator on the English Wikipedia?

John Reaves: About a year and one month.

 ((WN )) What areas do you normally focus your contributions to Wikipedia?

J.R.: Random, OTRS steers a lot of my edits. [ OTRS is short for Open-source Ticket Request System, and within Wikipedia refers to the people who respond to e-mails sent to the Wikimedia Foundation.]

 ((WN )) Are you aware of previous criminal threats made on Wikipedia? If so, were you directly involved in dealing with any of them?

J.R.: I was aware of another school shooting threat was made I believe, but I wasn't involved.

 ((WN )) How did you first notice the threats made on the Wikipedia article "Glen A. Wilson High School" ?

J.R.: User:Dreadstar posted to AN [Wikipedia's Administrators' noticeboard] asking for advice.

 ((WN )) You had said at the Administrators' noticeboard that you were speaking with a detective - What police department did you get in contact with?

J.R.: I believe it was the Los Angeles County Sheriff's department's Industry City station.

 ((WN )) How did you work with the detective and the Internet service provider? Did you give them any additional information, other than the suspect's IP address?

J.R.: I gave them the basic information you get when you run a checkuser (which included the IP address among other things). I also forwarded this to the ISP who referred me to their legal department in a reply. I also had to give them a brief overview of how Wikipedia works (which was rather difficult to do on the spot and to people who had never heard of the project). [The Checkuser tool on Wikipedia allows those with "checkuser" status to examine user IP information and other server log data.]

 ((WN )) Did you notify the Wikimedia Foundation staff that you had contacted the police? If so, what was their reaction?

J.R.: I spoke with Board member Michael Snow via IRC and [he] gave me the go ahead on releasing the checkuser information and I spoke with Cary Bass [Volunteer Coordinator for the Wikimedia Foundation] the next day. I don't remember their reactions.

 ((WN )) Are you satisfied with the way Wikipedia administrators responded to the threat? Could anything have been done differently?

J.R.: Yes, the only thing that could have been better would be if there had been someone who could have made it a local call.

 ((WN )) How can Wikipedia administrators better prepare for this scenario in case it happens again?

J.R.: I don't see what you can do to prepare for something like that. If it's serious, call the police, if you don't know, post at AN.

 ((WN )) How do you feel law enforcement responded to the threat? What could they have done better? How can they plan for this in the future?

J.R.: They responded full force. It would have been easier if they were a little more wired though (anyone who has ever had to read the URL of a diff over the phone would also agree). [A "Diff" is the difference between two versions of a page on Wikipedia, it can also refer to the long link in the address bar denoting the version of those pages.]

 ((WN )) Do you have any advice for law enforcement from other locations that may be monitoring this situation?

J.R.: Get an e-mail address and some basic computer/internet crimes knowledge.

 ((WN )) Thank you for your time, and thanks for speaking with Wikinews.


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Sources

This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.