Parents of students at San Marcos High School remained concerned with their children’s safety as hundreds gathered in the campus auditorium late Monday to discuss the ongoing criminal investigation of six boys linked to an online video threatening the death of more than a dozen female students. The 90-second mock instructional video features a male San Marcos student saying, “I’m going to show you how to kill a thot.” (“Thot,” pronounced “thought,” is short for “that ho over there.”) He then describes how to load and shoot a Colonial-era rifle and how to use its bayonet. He signs off with, “I hope you found this video helpful in your war against thots.” The video was posted in a private chat room, where another of the six boys posted a “list of thots that need to be eradicated,” with accompanying names and pictures of at least 16 female students from San Marcos, Dos Pueblos, and Santa Barbara high schools and La Colina Junior High School, according to parents familiar with the posts.
On Friday, January 19, the threats were brought to the attention of school administrators, who immediately called the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. Initially, administrators also contacted the families of the six boys and the targeted girls, but according to many angered parents, the greater student body at San Marcos and all the students and staff at the other campuses were not notified by school officials until several days later.
By January 24, some or all of the six boys had been suspended. Parents said Monday that four of the six boys were back in class this week, while the boy in the video and the boy who posted the list remained absent. The identities and whereabouts — and reliable information, in general — of all six remained a major point of contention among parents.
Bound by federal education code, Santa Barbara Unified School District administrators cannot speak publicly about disciplinary actions against minors, even those in the spotlight of a criminal investigation, said Superintendent Cary Matsuoka, on hand Monday to moderate the discussion and to apologize for his office’s missed opportunities early on “to inform all parents,” he said. “We just flat-out missed it, and I’m apologizing to you tonight. You shouldn’t find out about it on the six o’clock news. We were too slow.” Matsuoka said it took four days for his team to learn the extent of the online threats and their impact on students and parents district-wide. “We underestimated the emotional impact of the threat to you and your children,” Matsuoka said.
Many in the audience pointed out similarities between the boys’ overt misogyny and that of 22-year-old Elliot Rodger before he killed six people in Isla Vista in 2014. The video and list from the San Marcos boys also became more widely known the same week a 15-year-old student at Marshall County High School in Benton, Kentucky, opened fire with a handgun, killing two. In the wake of the online threats, but without concrete information from school administrators or law enforcement, some parents opted to keep their children home. Other students returned to class only after developing an “exit plan” should an attack erupt on campus, according to a parent who wished to remain anonymous.
“We began a disciplinary process, and it’s ongoing,” Matsuoka said. “We can’t talk about who was targeted. We can’t talk about who committed it. Just know we’re doing our jobs, and we’re working as fast as we can.” Generally speaking, Matsuoka said the district isn’t required to wait for the conclusion of a Sheriff Office’s investigation before proceeding with an expulsion.
Asked if the case was being investigated as a hate crime — a third post, allegedly by one of the six boys on Instagram, featured Nazi tanks and swastika flags as part of “the war on thots” — the Sheriff’s Office was “unable to answer specific questions,” said Public Information Officer Kelly Hoover.
While law enforcement is withholding details, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office Commander Darin Fotheringham — who also spoke to parents on Monday — did say that after learning of the video on that Friday, his deputies determined over the weekend that no students or teachers were in danger as classes picked up again the following Monday. Fotheringham said that determination was made after dozens of interviews and background and firearm-registry checks among the families of the six alleged offenders. Officers have also since served three warrants and seized evidence. Fotheringham said Monday that no arrests had been made; he anticipated that the case would be wrapped up by the end of this week and sent to District Attorney Joyce Dudley’s office for review.