Cranston Police are "combing through" social media networks and websites and "those messages that are construed as extremely threating in nature will be identified and their authors will be called in for questioning," said Cranston Police Chief Col. Marco Palombo Jr.
In a release, Palombo said that the department is conducting a "proactive investigation" into "threatening comments being made through social media outlets directed at Cranston High School West student Jessica Ahlquist amid the court decision regarding the removal of the prayer banner from the school's auditorium."
"While it is clear that which is prohibited under the recently legislated Safe Schools Act, other comments that have been posted could possibly fall under the Cyberstalking and cyberharrassment prohibited statute which calls for in part, 'a purposeful course of conduct that would cause a person reasonable emotional distress and to be in fear for their safety,' Palombo said.
That means some people could be prosecuted by police in addition to facing punishment from the school district under other laws relating to cyberstalking and cyberharassment.
Palombo said people found to be in violation of cyberharassement laws can be criminally charged and may be found guilty of a misdemeanor for the first offense and subsequent offenses are felonies.
Along with investigating the social media messages, Palombo said Cranston Police will have extra patrols over the weekend both at and by the Ahlquist residence.
Some people posted Ahlquists' home address on news websites.
“This investigation should be in no way construed as an abridgement to an individuals’ right to first amendment expression; but posted messages that are overtly harassing and threatening in nature will be fully investigated, and the Cranston Police Department will not tolerate any acts or actions that jeopardize the safety of others," Palombo said.
Although many of the people who posted hostile messages towards Ahlquist on Twitter have since deleted their Tweets, several websites and blogs have been archiving them by taking screen captures. One of those sites, http://jesusfetusfajitafishsticks.blogspot.com/, has dozens of the messages archived.
To read through more than 20 articles we've posted over the last year-and-a-half regarding the prayer banner case, click HERE.