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Southeast High School student receives threatening texts, TextNow app blocks sender's number

7:46 PM, Mar 4, 2014   |    comments
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Bradenton, Florida -- Texting is how teenagers often communicate, but Manatee County Sheriff's officials say one student's texts at Southeast High School crossed the line.

Senior Ashley Hartzell says word spread fast of the threatening texts.

"It was pretty scary. I didn't want that to happen to me," says Ashley.

A student told deputies she received the texts during her 6th period class. According to deputies, the text starts with a simple "Hey." When she didn't recognize the number and asked who it was the sender replied, "it's your baby mama."

Deputies say the texts then turned threatening with one saying, "I'm going to cut your throat." Another threatened to blow up a house and another said they would get 'half of Southeast' and 'the people in your 6 period."

The sender bragged they can't be traced because they used a free app called TextNow that blocks their number.

"The technology changes so quickly it's a struggle for us to stay on top of it," says Detective Kevin Bunch with the Bradenton Police Department.

Bunch works with Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) and says these apps make it easy for one to hide and difficult for officers to trace.

"It's easier for them to use the number for a week or two, ditch it, and open up another number."

A TextNow spokesperson in Canada tells 10 News they store their data and it can be subpoenaed.

In an email, Sasha Antonenko with enflick.com, the site where inquiries are made for TextNow says:

"We are happy to help as much as possible, regardless of which agency/company/individual you represent. All subscriber information, texts, call logs, and even IP addresses are stored on our servers. To retrieve the information, we simply need to have a subpoena or a search warrant from the requesting party."

Bunch says sending a subpoena out is a lengthy process, a roadblock.

He says the best resources in this case are parents.

"It comes down to parental role need to know what apps they have on phone."

Debbie Taylor's two grandchildren attend Southeast High School.

"Maybe we take their phones away so these things don't happen anymore. If the school won't do it, parents need to do it," Taylor says.

According to Manatee County School District officials, the parents of the students interviewed by deputies were notified but a school-wide letter to be sent home to parents was not sent.

Deputies believed at the time the threatening texts were not "credible," but deputies say they believe the texts came from someone in the 6th period class.

While detectives have not determined who sent the texts, deputies say the investigation continues and charges are possible.

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