Massachusetts investigators pursue six 8th graders who created a mock slave auction on Snapchat

A mock slave auction held on Snapchat was directed at two particular students at Southwick Regional School, investigators allege

SOUTHWICK, Mass. (AP) — Investigators in Massachusetts are pursuing criminal charges against six teens who they say participated in “a hateful, racist online chat that included heinous language, threats, and a mock slave auction.”

A group on Snapchat was created overnight from Feb. 8 through Feb. 9 by a group of eighth grade students in the town of Southwick, Massachusetts, located about 100 miles (161 kilometers) west of Boston, according to investigators.

During the chat, some participants expressed hateful and racist comments, including wanting to commit acts of violence toward people of color, racial slurs, derogatory pictures and videos, and a mock slave auction directed at two particular students, investigators said.

The icon for Snapchat is seen on a smartphone, Feb. 28, 2023, in Marple Township, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

Snapchat servers are designed to automatically delete all one-on-one messages and group chats after they’ve been viewed by all recipients, according to the company’s website. Still, the company warns that those who see messages can potentially save them, whether by taking a screenshot or another image-capture technology.

On Friday, Feb. 9, the existence of the group chat was reported to school authorities. The following Monday, six students were suspended from Southwick Regional School. On the same day, local police informed the Hampden District Attorney’s Office about the posts.

One of the students has been charged with interference with civil rights, threatening to commit a crime and witness interference. A second participant has been charged with interference with civil rights and threatening to commit a crime. The remaining four have each been charged with threatening to commit a crime.

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The identities of the six teens were not disclosed due to their age. The charges were filed in juvenile court.

Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said he met personally with the identified victims and their families.

“Hatred and racism have no place in this community. And where this behavior becomes criminal, I will ensure that we act,” Gulluni said in a written statement.

“There is no question that the alleged behavior of these six juveniles is vile, cruel, and contemptible. Seeing it, and facing the reality that these thoughts, that this ugliness, can exist within middle school students, here, in this community, in 2024 is discouraging, unsettling, and deeply frustrating,” he added.

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