Reporting Mike Hellgren
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WJZ)—There’s new information on how police quickly tracked down the 19-year-old University of Maryland student they say made grave threats online.
Mike Hellgren investigates exactly how police did this.
This was a true collaboration between the university police and IT professionals on campus, as well as several websites.
Time was critical. Police at the University of Maryland College Park believe someone was seriously planning a massacre at the heart of their campus. But the only evidence was anonymous threats on two social networking sites: Omegle and Reddit.
Within 13 hours, police were able to track down Alexander Song, the student accused of making those threats. How did they do it?
Jeffery Tuer, associate professor of criminology at Notre Dame of Maryland University, has decades of law enforcement experience. He explains that no threat is truly anonymous.
“Whenever you log on to the Internet, you leave a digital footprint. With that IP address, the police are able to pinpoint a street address. It doesn’t typically take police a whole lot of time to narrow something like that down. This is an everyday occurrence across America,” Tuer said.
Police in College Park first made calls to Reddit’s headquarters in California.
“We were met with unanswered calls and so forth. We had to work throughout the night to actually make that contact,” said Chief David Mitchell, College Park Police.
With the clock ticking, the race was on to trace it. Saturday night at 9:25 p.m. police got their first report of an anonymous threat from a tipster. By Sunday at 4:45 a.m., they identified the computer’s IP address. By 6 a.m. Sunday, they identified the suspect and took him into custody by 10:06 a.m.
“Once the crisis is averted, they will then go back with a warrant and meticulously search for evidence,” Tuer said.
“If you see something, say something, which was done in this case and led us to Mr. Song,” Mitchell said.
Song told police that he was stressed out. Some of his friends believed he was joking. Authorities saw this as no laughing matter.
Song faces a misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum of six months in jail.