Police investigating school threats; seize 17-year-old’s electronics

NEW ULM — New Ulm police have seized the electronic devices of a 17-year-old who is suspected of making threats to the District 88 schools.

The threat to school safety was brought to the attention of local parents Thursday after they received a message from Superintendent Jeff Bertrang.

Bertrang’s e-mail was in response to a story published on southernminnesotatoday.com about a potential school shooting.

“I have spent time with the New Ulm Police Department (NUPD) to get the information they have regarding the news story,” Bertrang wrote. “No one at the (NU)PD believes there is any threat to our schools, staff or students (we continue to have Kids Connection and Summer School occurring in our buildings this summer).”

Police became aware of posts referencing school shootings on June 5, after an anonymous student brought it to the attention of one officer.

The account had several references to the 1999 Columbine School shooting and one post that read “treat me coolio or I’ll go school shootio,” according to a warrant request filed June 14.

Operated by a 17-year-old student, the account used the moniker mr.dankonin and a photo of Jason Pankonin, a high school social studies teacher.

In meetings with high school counselors and Principal Mark Bergmann, investigators learned the suspected student struggled academically. The student also had been spoken to for other behavioral incidents.

Bergmann voiced concerns over the posts as the student was scheduled to attend summer school, according to the warrant.

In speaking with Pankonin, whose likeness was used by the account, investigators learned that he believed he had a positive relationship with the suspected student.

Pankonin described the student as “somewhat of a loner” who had a passion for history and a deep knowledge of the Soviet Union. Pankonin found the photo of himself being used on the profile disturbing, according to the warrant.

Investigators determined the location of the suspected account operator through records of IP addresses associated with the Instagram account.

They requested a warrant to search for computers, cell phones capable of accessing Instagram, documents or plans relating to a school shooting and weapons to carry out a shooting.

It was approved on June 15 and in the search officers recovered an Apple iPod, cell phone, computer and a note/drawing, according to Commander David Borchert.

No arrests have been made and the case is currently being reviewed by the Brown County attorney.