VOORHEES – Initial concerns about a student accused of threatening the safety of Eastern Regional High School were based on unfounded gossip, the district’s superintendent said Friday.
But a conclusion that the student, 18-year-old Jacob Finkelstein, posed “no credible threat” was delayed in reaching a school resource officer, said Superintendent Harold Melleby Jr.
He said Finkelstein was arrested Feb. 15 after “related information was provided to Voorhees Police Department from another source.”
Township police were told Finkelstein had been allegedly overheard by multiple students “making false threats during school hours by stating that he was going to ‘shoot up the school.'”
The Voorhees senior was placed on house arrest Thursday after being held on charges of false public alarm and terroristic threats.
Finkelstein, shackled and handcuffed, did not speak at his detention hearing. He had been held in Camden County Jail since Monday, after spending 11 days at a crisis center.
The teen’s attorney, John Underwood, could not be reached for comment.
“This is an active and ongoing case,” Voorhees Police Captain Carmen Del Palazzo said Friday.
“Please keep in mind the standards for police to make an arrest … are probable cause, not gossip,” he said.
At a community meeting Monday night, Voorhees police indicated the comment was reported to law enforcement by Michelle Nocito, a township committeewoman. She could not be reached for comment.
In a letter posted to the district’s website, Melleby said a student who started a group chat about Finkelstein acknowledged she never heard him threaten to shoot fellow students.
“I just thought he would,” the girl said when questioned by administrators.
The student said the gossip over Finkelstein began after a friend “commented via social media about Jacob leaving class the previous day.”
The school’s investigation began after Principal Robert Tull Jr. read an email on Feb. 13 from a parent whose daughter was afraid to go to school.
“The student stated that the source of her fear was a track team group chat,” according to Melleby’s letter. That student also said she had not heard Finkelstein threaten anyone.
A student called to Tull’s office produced a copy of the chat. She also was unaware of any threats by Finkelstein.
“Based on the information that was provided, and the fact that no students had heard any direct threats, the investigation concluded that no credible threat existed involving Jacob Finkelstein,” the superintendent wrote.
“It was decided to advise the school resource officer at the conclusion of the investigation. Unfortunately, this communication was delayed,” he said.
Melleby did not say when the investigation had concluded or what caused the delay.
“This lapse was an error on the school’s part and we have since changed our procedure for police notification,” he said.
Melleby said the district “was not aware of the specific grounds” for Finkelstein’s arrest when it occurred.
The letter noted the review of the circumstances surrounding the arrest were first presented at a Feb. 21 school board meeting. “But we recognize many were unable to attend and did not receive the complete information,” Melleby said.
“It is our understanding that the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office is still investigating this case,” Melleby wrote. “As additional facts are released, they will be made available if appropriate.”
A representative of the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office could not be reached for immediate comment.
Jim Walsh: @jwalsh_cp; 856-486-2646; email@example.com
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