An internet troll whose grossly offensive Facebook postings included threats to kill 200 US children has been jailed for more than two years.
Reece Elliott, 24, from South Shields, left abusive comments on tribute pages set up for two teenagers who died in car accidents, and when challenged, sent nasty messages to pupils living in Warren County, Tennessee, in February.
After a deputy sheriff contacted him to say he would shut the page down, curly-haired Elliott sparked a security crackdown at local schools by threatening to shoot 200 children.
With sensitivities heightened in the US following the Newtown shooting which saw 20 children and six adults killed in an elementary school, hundreds saw Elliott’s message and almost 3,000 pupils missed classes the next day, Newcastle Crown Court heard.
Tennessee police began investigating, along with the FBI and Homeland Security. Elliott contacted his solicitor and walked into his local police station to admit what he had done when he realised the outcry he had caused.
At a previous hearing he admitted one count of making threats to kill and eight Communications Act offences.
Bridie Smurthwaite, prosecuting, said Elliott left “grossly offensive” messages to two tribute sites.
On one for a teenage girl killed by a drink driver, he wrote a stream of vile abuse. And on another for a teenager who died in a car crash, he said: “I hope you rot in hell.”
When Elliott’s fake Facebook profile received a friend request from a local deputy sheriff, the officer was branded a “paedo”.
After the lawman said he would shut down Elliott’s page, the father-of-one went online again, with severe consequences for him.
He wrote on the teenage girl’s tribute page: “My father has three guns. I’m planning on killing him first and putting his body in the dumpster.
“Then I’m taking the motor and I’m going in fast.
“I’m gonna kill hopefully at least 200 before I kill myself. So you want to tell the deputy, I’m on my way.”
Because it was posted on the site’s public wall, many hundreds of people probably saw it, the court heard.
School officials were swamped with calls and texts from concerned staff, parents and pupils so security was stepped up, with only restricted access to sites.
Nevertheless, 2,908 out of 6,654 pupils, or 44% of the register, missed classes at schools in the county the next day. One girl, now 16 and whose identity cannot be reported, received a private message from Elliott which said: “You have been chosen tomorrow at school to receive one of my bullets.”
She told police afterwards: “I think it should be taken very seriously, even though he was miles and miles away in another country. I was still scared and I didn’t want to come to school even after they caught him.”
After his arrest, Elliott said he was an internet troll, the purpose of which was to provoke arguments and reaction.
Miss Smurthwaite said he told officers “it was a massive mistake”.
Elliott has 17 convictions for 28 offences, including at the age of 16 an attempted robbery on a bookmaker’s when he was armed with an axe, and a racially aggravated public order offence in a pizza shop.
John Wilkinson, mitigating, said Elliott was described by a psychiatrist as emotionally immature and impulsive.
“As he says himself, ‘it’s time I finally grew up and started to act like an adult’,” Mr Wilkinson told the court.
Mr Wilkinson said Elliott could not explain his behaviour, which the defendant said was “idiotic, childish and pathetic”.
Elliott bowed his head and wept as Judge James Goss QC, the Recorder of Newcastle, passed a two years and four month sentence.
He told Elliott: “During the first week in February this year, with what seems to be no more than self-indulgent nastiness, you posted a series of grossly offensive comments on Facebook.”
Outside court, Detective Chief Inspector Ged Noble, who led the investigation, said officers were about to arrest Elliott when he walked into the police station.
The FBI contacted colleagues in England after discovering that the threats were coming from the North East.