Breaking News
More () »

Police: Student accused of Emory shooting threat says it was a joke

Police say that an Emory student arrested for threatening to carry out a mass shooting at Emory's Oxford College told police she meant it as a joke.
Emily Hikari Sakamoto was charged with one count of terroristic threats and acts


ATLANTA -- Police say that an Emory student, arrested for threatening to carry out a mass shooting at Emory's Oxford College, told the arresting officer she meant it as a joke.

Other Emory University students told 11Alive's Blayne Alexander the threat was posted to Yik Yak, an anonymous messaging service. Students screen-captured the threat - later attributed to Emily Hikari Sakamoto - and called 911.  The message said, "I'm shooting up the school. Tomorrow. Stay in your rooms. The ones on the quad are the ones who will go first."

The threat was specific to Emory's Oxford College in Newton County, where she is a sophomore, authorities said.

Police say Sakamoto confessed to posting the message, and, according to the arrest warrant, "The defendant stated she thought it was a joke and not against the law."

However, she's now facing a felony charge for terroristic threats.  The Sheriff's Office said she bonded out of jail Monday evening.

"Even if it is a joke, I think it should be treated as a serious offense," sophomore Kenquavius McCollum said. 

Many students including McCollum, who heard about the post through social media apps such as Yik Yak, were angry about the threat and they took it seriously.

"There are certain things that you can joke about, but saying that you're going to shoot the school campus isn't really one of those things," McCollum said.

According to Emory police, students saw the post at 12:20 Sunday morning and called 911. Police were able to trace the Yik Yak post - the program is not anonymous to them - and just before 4 p.m. Sunday they arrested Sakamoto in her campus dorm.

Just after 8:30 p.m., Dean Stephen Bowen sent an email to all students:

Dear Oxford College Students, Faculty, and Staff:

Late last night a message on social media said the writer intended indiscriminate acts of violence toward persons on the Oxford College campus.  The message was on the web site only a few minutes but several Oxford students saw it and one of them called 911.  Emory police responded immediately.  Additional officers were sent to the Oxford campus and work began to identify the person sending the message.  At this time a sophomore student has confessed to sending the message and has been arrested.  She is currently in the Newton County jail pending charging tomorrow. 

Emory University is committed to providing a safe environment for all community members and will take swift and appropriate action to maintain the security of the campus community. In particular, Oxford's emergency response team has been on top of this incident since the 911 call and we can thank them for seeing the incident trough to this conclusion.

Stephen Bowen, Dean and CEO
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Biology
Oxford College, Emory University

Students like sophomore Sarah Chowdhery said administrators didn't tell them about the threat, and should have, quickly - not after the fact - and should have communicated frequent updates until the arrest was made.

"It was kind of scary because I didn't hear about it directly, like, I thought I would hear about it from admin first but, like, I found out through friends and Yik Yak," she said.

In response to concerns over the response time, Emory issued this statement on Tuesday: 

"Emory University's emergency notification system uses a multimodal system that includes text messaging, sirens, and web postings, if there is an imminent threat to life.  In the Oxford College incident there was not an imminent threat to life, and no specific information was provided in the social media post that would have helped the campus community to take preventive action.  

Given the facts of this particular situation, it was judged appropriate to hold communications until the student was identified, arrested and the situation resolved, at about 4:30 p.m.  Distribution of university messages began at about 7 p.m.  We currently are obtaining feedback from the community regarding ways to help us improve communication when critical events occur on campus.  The goal of our collective efforts is to provide a safe environment for all community members, and to take swift and appropriate action to maintain the security of the campus community."

11Alive has been unable to reach Sakamoto for comment.

The district attorney's office in Newton County will now investigate and decide whether to prosecute.

The school is on fall break until Wednesday, but not all students had left.

PHOTOS: More mug shots

Before You Leave, Check This Out