On October 4, days after giving his Instagram password to a person he met online through Xbox Live, my son, Keagan Axtell, was arrested for sending shooting threats on Instagram to his Santa Fe High School peers. Because the time stamp on the threats coincided with a hike we took together on a trail with no internet service, we knew immediately it was not Keagan. While we were relieved to have hard evidence to clear his name, the details of what really happened were extremely concerning to us. My husband and I have invested countless hours in closely monitoring his social media and internet usage. We were appalled at the idea that our son would willingly give his login information to someone he didn’t know.
He was released from custody five days later, after the courts determined he was not responsible for sending the messages. The court declined a petition to file charges against him.
Keagan thought he’d met a friend, someone who could help him win the heart of a classmate. Instead, he met a sick individual who would use this information to terrify a school community and inflict irreversible damage on a young man who still believes most people are good and honest. While the courts tell us the lack of charges filed against him makes it like “this never even happened,” I can assure you it does not feel that way for us.
A young man made a mistake. He trusted someone he shouldn’t have and the consequences have been life changing. Keagan is no longer wanted, welcome or safe at SFHS. Thanks to the permanency of Google searches, he worries about the ways this will affect his ability to gain employment. The repercussions of his misjudgment have cast a ripple far and wide. Parents of SFHS students are still terrified and unsure of how safe the campus is without the person responsible for these threats in custody. Our family’s livelihood and sense of safety have also been compromised.
My husband and I do not fault the actions of the school and police to address the situation; their immediate attention was exactly what we would expect from those in charge of our children. We wonder, though, at what we missed – what other conversations we might have had to heighten Keagan’s awareness and judgment in order to prevent this. It is unfortunate that our family has had to learn this lesson in such a difficult way, but we hope the experience will serve as a reminder to all parents that there is no age limit on talks of internet safety.
Tiphini Axtell lives in Santa Fe