I love and miss you all. Have a weird news story involving a South Korean serviceman and a nearby high school. Apparently this went down while I was still in SK, but they didn't crack the case until now.
For reference, this (Hackettstown) is about 50 minutes away from my house. It's only 20 minutes away from one of my good college friends.
For the link phobic:
HACKETTSTOWN, NJ — Online chat rooms appear to be the link between a 19-year-old serving in the South Korean military and phone calls that led to the lockdown of four Hackettstown schools in 2012.
Warren County Prosecutor Richard Burke and Hackettstown Police explained in a press conference today how Dae Woong Lee, a 19-year-old serving in the South Korean military, was charged in his country for a call threatening Hackettstown High School students that led to the lockdown on March, 26, 2012.
Dae Woong Lee made two phone calls to the Warren County 911 Center, indicating he was in possession of an AK-47 in the woods behind Hackettstown High School, officials said.
Lee spoke with the 911 dispatcher for an hour, threatening to kill students including one particular girl who Burke said Lee was previously communicating with in online chat rooms.
The Procecutor's Office would not specify which website chat room was used to make contact. Burke indicated that it was not Facebook, but another form of social media.
Hackettstown High School, Hackettstown Middle School, Hatchery Hill School, Willow Grove School, St Mary’s school and Centenary College were placed on lockdown after Hackettstown Police responded, secured the area and contacted the Warren County Tactical Team.
Law enforcement eventually determined there was no imminent threat to students, and the lockdown was lifted.
"This is why we take these drills seriously," said Hackettstown High School Superintendent David Mango. "There is no incident that you can ever be fully prepared for."
According to Principal Roy Huchel, the lockdown lasted for more than three hours and involved 955 students. He said that after the incident, the school's Child Study Team and guidance counselors were made available to students to discuss the emotional toll of the event.
During the call to the 911 center, Lee identified himself as Kevin McGowan, 19, and spoke to the dispatcher about his girlfriend, his broken heart and rap songs he liked.
"We're not going to allow threats to our community and children to go unpunished," Burke said. "We could have walked away (from the investigation), but we're not going to do that; we're not going to tolerate this in Warren County," he said.
Authorities were not immediately able to trace the call because it was made from a voice-over-IP address app that masks the phone number and makes it harder to trace, according to the Warren County 911 Center.
This information was relayed to the Prosecutor's Office, which sought assistance from the N.J. State Police Electronic Surveillance Unit and the Attorney General's Office's Division of Criminal Justice and Electronic Surveillance Unit.
Burke said that the 15-month "manpower intensive" investigation involved leads outside of New Jersey.
"There were a lot of leads and one of them was in Wisconsin," Burke said. "There was a lot of investigation and a lot of man hours."
They then acquired assistance from Middle Atlantic-Great Lakes Oraganized Crime Law Enforcement Network, the U.S. Marshall Service, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"It was determined that the target of the investigation was outside of the United States, and specifically located in South Korea," Burke said. "Without the coordination of all efforts this was not possible."
Homeland Security continued the investigation along with the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, which was able to locate and interview Lee on Jan. 27.
On Monday, June 3, Lee was charged with obstruction of business in Korea and faces up to five years in prison and a fine up to the equivalent of $15,000.
Burke said Lee is currently not in jail, and will remain serving in the South Korean military until the matter is resolved.
"We have no intention of extraditing," Burke said, adding that the punishment is equivalent in the United States and the costs to extradite would be large. He added that he believes "their process is quicker than ours."
Warren County Freeholder Director Jason Sarnoski concluded the press conference by congratulating everyone involved for their hard work.
"There is no such thing as a small county or a small town anymore. We live in a global society," he said, "and we can be affected by anyone. We need to be constantly alert."
Michael McDonald, first assistant prosecutor for Warren County, hopes that resolving this will deter others from making threats in the future.
"There is no way to know if a person is serious," McDonald said in an interview after the conference. "It scares you what's out there on the internet."