By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Inside and outside schools in the Orono school district last week was a sense of fear after a threat was posted online stating someone would shoot up the school.

Within hours police caught the student they say was behind it. And within a few days, those who know him best have stepped forward to defend him.

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A GoFundMe page made on the student’s behalf states that he has autism and did not have the means nor the intent to carry out the threat.

One donor wrote, “As a parent with an autistic child you have my full support and understanding.”

“[That] tells me that the community sees this as a young man who might be struggling, who needs support, who is not a criminal to be shunned,” said Barbara Luskin, licensed psychologist with the Autism Society of Minnesota.

She does not personally know the student accused of the Orono threat but says people with autism often struggle to pick up on social cues or lessons some may consider to be common sense.

“If he has made some kind of mistake because he doesn’t understand, how do we make sure that he has the information and support he needs so that something like this doesn’t happen again,” she said.

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In 2013, a 12-year-old boy in New Prague called 911 to report a fake school shooting.

A family lawyer later revealed the boy had significant special needs. He told police he made the call because he likes police cars and flashing lights.

Luskin says preventing situations like these isn’t only up to schools and teachers, but families and friends.

“You can help by being explicit in saying, ‘You know, that’s a joke but don’t tell it here,’ or, ‘This person did that and that made me feel scared so it’s not a good thing to do,'” she said.

The GoFundMe page’s creator, Claire Berrett, says her daughter and other classmates have written supportive letters to the accused student. He is currently at the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center.

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The fundraiser has raised more than $30,000 in a few days. The page states that the money will be used for legal fees and treatment. “Any legal fees that may be covered by this campaign are for essential psychiatric and psychological assessments conducted in conjunction with legal representation, and exploration/representation for the family with regard to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” states the page’s author.

Jeff Wagner