Smithfield student’s threats to shoot others had ‘disturbing racial undertones,’ deputies say

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SMITHFIELD, Va. (WAVY) — A Smithfield High School student is in custody after a threat made online Tuesday prompted lockdowns at both the middle and high schools. 

“We take all threats to our school very seriously,” said Isle of Wight Lieutenant Tommy Potter. 

Paul M. Emerson, 18, was taken into custody Tuesday night and charged with two counts of communicating a threat via electronic means. During a search of a home in the 15000 block of Carrollton Blvd., deputies found an AR-15 rifle, according to Lt. Tommy Potter with the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office. Potter says it was removed from the home in connection to the investigation.

“One of the things that we have to look at is that when the threat is made does the individual have the capability of carrying that threat out,” Potter asked?

Deputies believe Smithfield student Paul Emerson had that capability. According to search warrants Emerson wrote on Snapchat that he was going to kill fellow students using his AR-15 rifle.  Investigators found an AR-15 in a closet at his Carrollton home. 

They also say there was plenty of ammunition.

“A threat was made,” Potter said.  “There was the mention of a weapon and that particular weapon was readily accessible in the home. That is very concerning to us.”

Paul M. Emerson

Emerson was then taken before a magistrate before being placed in the Western Tidewater Regional Jail with bond denied. 

Authorities also charged 51-year-old Melissa M. Jacuzzi, also of the 15000 block of Carrollton Blvd. with obstruction of justice in connection to the case. She was released on a summons, Potter says.

Deputies say Jacuzzi tried to delete information from some of the electronics in the house before investigators arrived.

In the warrants, Emerson told deputies he was depressed and was getting bullied at both schools after he was arrested on a similar charge in February when he was 17.  Deputies say more charges could be coming because the threat was focused on African Americans.

“There were some disturbing racial undertones in the threat that was made,” Potter added. “We are going to have further conversations with the Commonwealth’s Attorney about the appropriate charges.”

Lynn Briggs with Isle of Wight County Schools said the middle and high schools were placed on a modified lockdown to allow for an investigation. The lockdowns were later lifted. 

“Isle of Wight County Schools will handle this incident as a student disciplinary matter. While the school division is unable to comment about specific disciplinary action for this student, Isle of Wight County Schools will treat any and all threats against the safety of students and staff with the highest priority,” Briggs said in a release.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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