Details on Oct. 30 Snapchat post from parents of student who posted it

To the editor:

As the parents of the student who made the Snapchat post that preceded the alarm on Monday, Nov. 1, we want to clarify some details surrounding those events.

We are new to Pelham, having moved here for the excellent public schools and the town’s reputation for civic pride and good works. Of course, we hope that our son will be treated fairly, but we also genuinely believe that the well-being of our new community depends on an accurate understanding of what unfolded. In fact, we would have loved to have spoken out earlier, but we felt it was important to wait until the district completed its disciplinary review.

Let us start with what was not in the post: There was no real or intended threat to the high school or the community at large, no mention of violence or vandalism, no weapon or violent imagery and no mention of any groups or individuals.

What the community saw were photographs taken of only a portion of a Snapchat message our son created for a small group of friends. He believed they understood his nature as a well-intentioned, creative person. Of that group, only 19 are new acquaintances he has met since moving here in August.

Our son, who aims to be a filmmaker, chose aesthetics that he thought were cinematic and reflected a Halloween mood. It included vulgarity, most concerning to the public, colloquial use of the F-word that was misunderstood. “Time to F*ck Up Pelham” didn’t refer to violence or vandalism, it was an announcement that he wanted to shake things up creatively. (If you haven’t heard this usage, have a listen to “Tempo” by Lizzo, where she urges listeners to “F*ck it up on the dance floor.”)

The “code” that concerned people was made up of glyphs from an alphabet our son created when he was 10, inspired by the Disney cartoon “Gravity Falls.” When translated, the symbols in his post read, “Bored no more.” A timestamp that some noticed in the post was entirely peripheral—a note he made regarding a short story he wrote more than a year ago shown unintentionally. All of this has been vetted and confirmed by the Pelham Police Department.

The principal of Pelham Memorial High School and the police knew our son’s post was innocuous as early as Saturday night, when we spoke to both parties. Our son immediately took down the post and posted a clarification that he was talking about creative projects. With the misunderstanding cleared up, he went back to school on Monday.

The panic that followed was, unfortunately, out of our control. The photographs of the original post—without the clarification message—had been circulated among students and parents, along with speculation and commentary. A set of wild rumors arose: That our son was bullied, a loner and mentally unstable, that he threatened in his post to shoot up the school, that he had a hit list, that the code above his head was the code to our gun safe. None of this is true.

Our son has been assimilating well in Pelham, with a small and growing circle of new friends. He was a dedicated member of the cross-country team. He pursued an honors curriculum and had a 90-average. He had joined a number of school clubs and talked about starting a clean oceans initiative.

We have cooperated with the school and the police from the start, first providing explanations and assurances, then by providing evidence by way of the “code’s” key, which allowed direct translation. On Monday, after a full morning and afternoon of conversation with administrators and police, we invited officers to search our home for weapons. They performed a thorough search of our home and found nothing. We even asked an independent psychologist to evaluate our son. She confirmed what we already believed—he’s a normal kid with a clean bill of mental health.

As the district communicated in multiple emails and in meetings with parents and the general public, our son’s Snapchat post had been incorrectly conflated with multiple incidents from the previous week, which included an actual threat made by a student against other students. Unfortunately, while we gave the school district permission to share key details we suggested would put parents at ease, they stuck only to the barest of facts: There was no direct threat, there was no weapon.

Their communications failed to dispel misperceptions about this case, and they allowed defamatory statements about our child to go unchecked at the board of education meeting, where we were in attendance. He has been vilified and ostracized by his peers, all because a poorly-worded attempt to connect was misinterpreted, shared out of context, and used as the springboard for unfounded rumors.

Let us make this clear: We hold no ill will toward the students or parents at PMHS. We live at a time where the threat of school violence is very real. Without clear communication and transparency, fear flourishes. In fact, when we have been able to have conversations with community members one-on-one, we have gotten overwhelming empathy and support.

We also understand that the school district is bound by privacy laws to not disclose certain details. But we firmly believe that opportunities to communicate with students and parents at key moments were missed and that incomplete communication after the fact was insufficient. As Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ said in an email to parents, “Mistakes were made, lessons learned.” We’re eager to hear how they will apply those lessons.

Finally, we ask the parent and student community to please treat our son fairly in light of his limited role in this event. Please talk to your children. This kind of phenomenon depends on a number of factors, including the sharing of misinformation, official communication failures and crowd dynamics. We’ve spoken to him, as we often have, about the importance of presenting yourself in a positive light on social media, to think about how what you create will be understood by others, and, importantly, that vulgarity is an offensive and imprecise way to communicate. This time, we’re sure those lessons will stick.

Mr. and Mrs. John Miller

322 Sixth Ave.