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East High student with gun arrested as schools remain on alert due to TikTok trend

East High School in Salt Lake City is pictured on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019.
A student was arrested at East High School in Salt Lake City Friday after police say he brought a gun to school. School districts across Utah and throughout the country remain on heightened alert due to a disturbing nationwide TikTok trend threatening violence at schools.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

An East High student was arrested Friday as police and school districts across Utah remained on heightened alert due to a disturbing nationwide TikTok trend.

Vague threats of school violence that were to happen on Friday have been spread on the social media platform nationwide. And while investigators say there is no evidence the threats are credible, school districts have taken extra precautions.

In Salt Lake City, a student who investigators say brought a gun and ammunition to East High School was arrested. The investigation began Friday morning when the school resource officer was notified "about a social media post reportedly depicting an East High School student holding a gun," according to a prepared statement from Salt Lake police.

The student was taken into custody as he arrived at school. A gun was found in his backpack. No other information was released about the student or the case, or what the student's possible intentions were.

In a letter to parents, Salt Lake School District administrators praised the actions of other students who saw the threat and reported it.

"Those who reported what they knew did the right thing today, and I can't stress enough how important it is for students, parents, and staff to say something when they see something. Please talk to your students about this. For any students who may not feel comfortable approaching staff directly, I strongly urge you to download the SafeUT app," the letter stated. "This app has the potential to save lives, and we encourage all our community members to download it."

Earlier this week, a student at West High School was arrested after stealing a firearm from a family member and bringing it to school.

In the San Juan School District, students had a virtual learning day on Friday after threats were made and a device found, according to district administration.

According to a letter sent to parents from San Juan Superintendent Ron Nielson, a "threatening comment" was received by one of the district's schools on Thursday.

"Then, later in the evening a suspicious device appearing to be some type of homemade explosives was found at a second district school," the letter states. The San Juan County Sheriff's Office, along with the Navajo Nation police, responded and determined it to be "nonfunctional as an explosive device but still dangerous in nature."

No other details were given about what kind of device was found or why it was considered dangerous. But because of that and "the recent activity on TikTok," the San Juan district decided to make Friday a virtual learning day.

"This will allow time for further investigation," Nielson's letter states. "We do believe these incidents are related to the TikTok challenge. We plan on students returning to face-to-face instruction Monday, Dec 20."

At Riverview Junior High, 751 Tripp Lane in Murray, a threatening message was found scribbled on a bathroom stall. A student was identified in that incident by administrators and was being questioned by police Friday.

Another image shared on social media shows a picture of a message written on a bathroom stall stating, "I'm fed up with this school" and then a reference to bringing a gun to school on Friday. The image was shared locally by someone who added the word "Hillcrest" in the caption. Murray School District officials, however, say the picture was not taken at Hillcrest Junior High, but is one being shared nationally.

The threats are just the latest in a series of concerning messages at Utah's schools this week.

A Matheson Junior High School student was taken into custody Thursday for what Granite School District officials described as a "very specific threat" on social media against students and staff at the Magna school, said district spokesman Ben Horsley. The language used by the student appeared to be lifted from similar social media posts circulating due to the Tik Tok trend, according school administrators.

A week ago, two students in the Box Elder District were arrested for making threats in what police say was a failed attempt to be "funny."

On Thursday, Gov. Spencer Cox addressed the ongoing threats. "I can tell you that there have been cases ... that haven't made the news where there have been interventions we believe that have prevented any type of violence or casualties," he said Thursday during his PBS monthly news conference.

Contributing: Ladd Egan, Marjorie Cortez