The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

January 10, 2013

FBI investigates cyber threats in Steubenville rape case

STEUBENVILLE — The FBI is investigating cyber attacks in the eastern Ohio city where a high-profile rape case involving high school football players has triggered online hostilities.

The local sheriff said Wednesday his family had received a death threat and the Steubenville police chief said an email an email he received shut down his computer.

Online messages have targeted individuals and authorities in Steubenville amid increased attention to the rape charges against two high school football players.

The city and sheriff’s office had already voluntarily taken down their websites before Wednesday as a precaution against attacks and the county offices’ website is online only during business hours, also in case of after-hours attacks.

Steubenville police Chief William McCafferty said he was checking work email at his office Wednesday when he opened a message and his computer was disabled.

McCafferty said the email was one in a series he’s received from someone claiming to be a hacker angry at others who have been critical of law enforcement’s handling of the case. McCafferty said the emailer had been sending directions in attachments for how to get back at the group.

McCafferty said he never opened any attachments but his computer was disabled anyway. The FBI has a copy of the email, McCafferty said. He said he’s also stopped using his home computer for fear of being hacked.

Wednesday afternoon, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla said he was advised of a Facebook threat by an anonymous poster that named his family. The post also included death threats against other law enforcement officials and Steubenville individuals.

“The police who protect them must be executed,” the post said, with “them” referring to students at Steubenville High School. Abdalla said he he’d provided the FBI a copy of the post, which the state Attorney General’s office said was forwarded by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

“This has got to be some crackpot sick individual out there who would put this stuff out there,” Abdalla said Wednesday.

FBI spokesman Todd Lindgren said he could not immediately comment. Patrol spokeswoman Lt. Anne Ralston said she was looking into the issue.

The state Homeland Security division has been monitoring social media for any threats to the schools.

Earlier this week the U.S. Justice Department said it was monitoring cyber threats in Steubenville and will help state and local investigators if it appears federal laws have been broken.

A Facebook threat Tuesday to a Steubenville student caused a brief lock-down at the high school. The district added unarmed security guards to its buildings after the threat.

The rape charges against the football players have led to blog postings and numerous cyber messages alleging a cover-up by authorities and demanding other students be charged.

Testimony at a hearing in September determined there was only enough evidence to charge the two players.

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