ToquiNotes: How City May have Dodged Literal Bullet and Unknown Mall Employees are to Thank for It

By Jeff Toquinto on March 10, 2018 from ToquiNotes via Connect-Bridgeport.com

If anyone’s been paying attention, myths Bridgeport or any part of West Virginia being insulated from deadly attacks should have been dispelled back on August 26, 2015. It was back at that time that an armed teenager held hostages at Philip Barbour High School just up the road.
 
The 14-year-old was armed and had students and educators holed up in a matter that drew national media attention. Unlike so many other situations, this one ended without harm as the teen dropped his pistol and surrendered.
 
My bubble of invincibility was shattered long before that. Part of it is a microcosm of being an anxiety laden individual and part of it is simply as a result – until recently – of watching way too much news. Had that bubble still foolishly been in place, it would have burst Saturday.
 
In the mid-afternoon, I received a press release from Chief John Walker. Typically, that means a drug arrest had taken place or an operation was under way.
 
This was neither. In some ways, it felt worse.
 
Here’s what I do know. Thanks to the efforts of Deputy Chief Randy Hartley and Sgt. Jimmy Petroski Bridgeport avoided being the next city on “the list.” And that list is of random communities that become the focal point of national attention for a terrorist act that leaves people harmed and often killed.
 
Was it going to happen? That’s yet to be determined. The answer of why it couldn’t have happened lies with our friends in law enforcement.
 
Late Friday evening, Bridgeport Police took a call from employees at Cinemark Theater at Meadowbrook Mall. The caller states that there was post on social media – the platform in this case being Snapchat – and it was from a young man in Taylor County by the name of Mason James Taylor.
 
The Snapchat post was a picture of the theater's lobby with text that said “Instead of shooting up schools, how about we start shooting up movie theaters? First ones on me.”
 
In light of recent situations nationwide, things like this can’t be dismissed. And thankfully, the employees at Cinemark saw it, reported it and Petroski and Hartley got the ball rolling to do something about it.
 
Shortly after midnight, with the help of the Taylor County Sheriff’s Department, the young man in question had turned himself in without incident to the Bridgeport Police Department.
 
“It was pretty quick and, under the circumstances, we were able to expedite a warrant pretty fast. It was a good job of everyone working together,” said Walker. “Obviously, you can’t see a post like that and not be concerned. Between the time we became aware of the post and until such time as the theater was closed or the suspect turned himself in, we had a presence at the theater to make sure nothing would take place.”
 
Nothing took place on the violence front. As for Mason James Taylor, he has been charged with one felony count of Threats of Terrorist Acts and was taken to the North Central Regional Jail. This is a very serious charge.
 
The investigation is still not over, said Hartley. He said additional search warrants will likely be obtained to try and determine the mindset.
 
“In this day and age, the charge you can make for a terrorist threat came as a result of stuff that happens in malls and theaters in the past so when we’re aware of it, it’s taken very serious,” said Hartley. “You have to. If you don’t and the worst case scenario happens, you just can’t say we didn’t think it was serious.
 
“We don’t know if the man in question was serious, if he was joking or what this intentions were. I can tell you law enforcement doesn’t see it as a joke and if anyone does that it will be treated in the same manner,” Hartley continued. “If it’s a joke, that’s something a lawyer will likely have to convince someone was the case. We act on that information and if it’s out there it’s considered serious.”
 
Here’s where the public comes into play. And they come into play in a very big way.
 
“There’s no way we can catch everything on social media; it’s impossible. The community has to be vigilant like these employees were and as soon as you see something concerning in any way, let us know,” said Walker. “We’ll then find out if it’s a threat, the story behind it and take the action. This was absolutely how it should be done and how we hope, if it arise again, will be done in the future.”
 
Walker reminded people sitting behind keyboards that want to make threats in any manner that they can all be considered legitimate. And he’s offering this warning.
 
“You can’t say things online that you wouldn’t say publicly, particularly if you’re talking about harming someone or taking aggressive action. If you do, then we’re going to take action because the risk of not taking action is something no one in law enforcement wants to ever have to think about,” said Walker.
 
Walker added one more thing. It’s something he talks about frequently when he hears talk of people locally thinking Bridgeport or other pockets of small rural cities and communities are immune from drug problems. He’s pointed out more than once that’s a fool’s gold way of thinking when it comes to drugs and it’s the same to think something disastrous couldn’t happen here.
 
“There’s not a community in the United States that is immune to do these type of actions whether it’s a homegrown terrorist or any terrorist,” said Walker. “That’s important to remember and I hope people keep that in mind if they see anything like what was called in (March 2).”
 
Good job by the Bridgeport Police Department. And an even better job by the folks at Cinemark and their employees.
 
Nothing may have happened had you not called. Because you did, you assured nothing happened.
 
Well done folks.
 
Editor's Note: Top photo shows Deputy Chief Randy Hartley, sitting, and Sgt. Jimmy Petroski looking over social media site, while Chief John Walker is shown below.


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