DERRY — Accusations of sexual assaults against female students at Pinkerton Academy disseminated on the social media platform Snapchat triggered a school walkout and protest Friday, but are unsubstantiated, according to police.
Derry Police Capt. Vern Thomas said in a news release that the allegations that a male student had assaulted a dozen female students spread rapidly among the student body via several Snapchat shares.
“At this time, it appears no crimes were committed as alleged in the Snapchat posting,” Thomas said in the news release.
Rumor-fueled false information is nothing new at the school, Thomas told the Union Leader, but this is the first time he’s seen something of this “magnitude.”
The social media post alleged that school administrators had failed to act when assaults were reported to them, but in fact no such reports were made, they said.
A school administrator who learned about the Snapchat message being circulated informed Jeff Dawe, a school resource officer, about the allegation Thursday.
Police began investigating the claim immediately and interviewed dozens of students, including a young woman who initiated the “re-post” from a message posted by a student she did not know.
“She also stated that she had no personal information about the sexual assaults and merely re-posted something she read,” Thomas said. “She had no idea who may be a victim or suspect or any details of a crime.”
Thomas said there were no names implicating suspects or identifying victims in the social media post.
“We don’t know where it came from. She claims that she re-posted something that she read,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the student seemed genuinely concerned about the allegations.
Investigators also think it unlikely that of the dozen victims or their families, none would share information about a serious sexual assault with authorities.
Earlier Friday morning, a group of students protested the alleged assaults between classes and some were interviewed by police.
“This morning a group of our students participated in a demonstration between classes,” Pinkerton spokesman Julia Mitchell said in an emailed statement Friday. “As stated in our letter, Pinkerton Academy supports and encourages all students to use their voices in a peaceful and constructive manner. We appreciate our students’ respectful display of support for one another during this challenging time.”
Pinkerton headmaster Timothy Powers released a letter to the public Thursday decrying the allegations as uncharacteristic of the school community’s shared values. Powers called the allegations “deeply disturbing” and vowed to cooperate with law enforcement, the Division of Children, Youth and Families and said the school will engage the services of an independent investigator.
Thomas said that any suspicious circumstances should be reported to police directly, and parents are asked to be attentive to their children’s presence on social media.
“Messages such as the one detailed in this incident should not be ‘shared’ but reported immediately to law enforcement,” Thomas said.
Thomas said if a student feels uncomfortable directly notifying police, they could ask an adult to notify them on their behalf.