It makes sense that police, parents, teachers, and pretty much everyone would be extra vigilant after the horrific elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. But in Galloway Township, New Jersey, a high school student was arrested after simply drawing pictures of “what appeared to be weapons” in his notebook.

A teacher of the unidentified 16-year-old noticed his drawings in class and alerted school officials, who called the police. The cops took the boy out of school and then searched his home, where they found, according to CBS local news, “several electronic parts and several types of chemicals that when mixed together, could cause an explosion” — a description so vague and obfuscatory it would make Orwell shudder. And based on this, they charged the teenager with possession of a weapon, an explosive device.

The explosive device would have to make itself, mind you, because, in the police chief’s words, “There was no indication he was making a bomb, or using a bomb or detonating a bomb,” and the boy didn’t issue any threats.

“He takes the parts and he builds things with them,” the teenager’s mom told Fox. “Good things.” She added that the drawing that started the whole incident was actually a glove with flames coming out of it — which, quite honestly, sounds like standard fantasy or superhero fodder and makes the reaction seem all the more disproportionate. Schools and police obviously need to take precautions and do everything in their power to prevent more Newtowns or Columbines. But to arrest and charge a teenager based on a doodle and an unreleased list of items in his parents’ house sounds more like a troubling abuse of power than preparedness.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...

15 replies on “Police Arrest Teenager for Doodling”

  1. Over vigilance is becoming a real concern every American should be aware of and fighting against. This child, drawing “flaming gloves” somehow caused not only school officials to sound the alarm, but evidently a judge also found this reasonable evidence to issue a search warrant. On top of that now, even though the police specifically say that he was NOT building a bomb or threatening anyone or anything, just having household chemicals which COULD cause an explosion if mixed is basis enough to place this child under arrest and detain him at a juvenile detention center. Every house in america contains chemicals that COULD be used to build a bomb. This means that every single American today could be arrested as a terrorist. This needs to stop and it needs to stop in a hurry before we fall down the rabbit hole entirely.

  2. I’ve written to the Philadelphia ACLU and also the Comic Book Legal Defense fund (which is actually a thing), and I urge people to do the same with same/similar organizations.

  3. When I was in school the only things boys drew were carnage, gore, and dismemberment, at least untill we became interested in drawing girl parts. At that time, and since, it never occured to me that we were dangerous pervert felons. By todays standards we would have all been in Juvy or the psychiatrist’s office.

  4. this scares me to death. My 15 year old son draws all kinds of stuff, we own cleaning supplies and gasoline for the lawnmower, and we are in a rural area so we have lots of hatchets and stuff we use for cutting wood and brush, and parts for building stuff. Should I go thru all his notebooks now so they don’t start calling my house a “compound?” BOYS DRAW GORE! My brother drew gore. My grandsons draw gore. My son draws gore. I don’t care for it but I don’t mistake it for pathology.

    1. Girls draw gore too. I used to draw lady knights and guys with bows and guns and people with grenades. My step-dad is an engineer and my dad a nautical engineer, so we have tons of gadgets and fuel and sharp things and accelerants at home. Yeesh, glad my school didn’t do this.

  5. It appears that the dubious benefit of this particular misguided arrest is the national attention it will garner and hopefully remind folks of what they did not all that many years back. “… chemicals that when mixed together could cause an explosion…” describes a well stocked cleaning cabinet. And it wasn’t that long ago when every boy (and many girls too if memory serves) ‘exploded’ fire crackers on the Fourth as an essential right of passage. I hope the young lad continues his interest in electronics, chemistry, and art.

  6. Reminds me of this:

    Dad Arrested, Strip-Searched After Daughter Draws a Picture of a Gun in School

    A Canadian father was arrested and strip-searched Wednesday after his
    4-year-old daughter drew a picture of a gun in her kindergarten class.

    Ontario dad Jesse Sansone told the Toronto Sun
    his little girl’s drawing was supposed to be him, getting monsters and
    bad guys. Her teacher apparently thought differently, and the school
    contacted child protective services. When Sansone arrived to pick his
    daughter up, three police officers were waiting to take him into

    “I’m picking up my kids and then, next thing you know, I’m locked up,” he told the Waterloo Region Record. “I was in shock. This is completely insane.”

    Police questioned Sansone’s daughter and his other children, who gave a “detailed description” of a firearm supposedly located in the house and easily accessible to them, Inspector Kevin Thaler of the Waterloo Regional Police said, according to the Calgary Herald.

    “The kids were scared,” “It is a 4-year-old that we’re taking the information from, but the fact is that this disclosure was very descriptive and very alarming to the officers investigating this.”

    He said the arrest was made “because it was the end of the school day” and officers felt they needed to “secure and locate the firearm.”

    When Sansone got to the school, he was told only that he was being arrested for possession of a firearm and given no additional details. At the police station, he was forced to remove his clothes for a full strip search. While he sat in a jail cell, police even brought his
    pregnant wife to the station for more questioning.

    The “gun” his children told police about? A toy pistol that shoots foam darts, which police discovered during a search of his house.

    “The child had every belief it was real,” Thaler said. “The indication from the kids was that it was dad’s [gun].”

    Sansone was finally released after four hours. He said he’s furious and that his name has been slandered.

    “So many people dealt with this situation in the wrong way,” he told the Sun. “I know the principal really well, how could he judge my character in this way? I drop off and pick the kids up every day, I always say hello, I sign every report card, I go to every parent teacher
    meeting, I am an active parent at that school.”

    But the school, police and child welfare officials all stand by their actions, according to the Record.

    “From a public safety point of view, any child drawing a picture of guns and saying there’s guns in a home would warrant some further conversation with the parents and child,” said Alison Scott, executive director of Family and Children’s Services.

    At least, in Canada the “perpetrator” was not charged with the crime. I imagine, in US that toy gun would do as well as “the chemicals”.

  7. Okay so he gets in trouble for drawing…a “gun”, yet WE WANT TO PUT THEM IN THE HANDS OF TEACHERS!!?!?!? and with all the glorification and talk about guns, what makes what this kid drawing one worse? The thing that never happens in these situations, is Hey why are you drawing that? No we want the answer WE WANT TO HEAR and if we dont get it, since were never satisfied, it goes into this vigilante escapade.
    I despise these child service programs…they never help the kids that need help or the parents that are putting their kids in harms way, drugs, alcohol, prostitution, etc always kids who dont do shit to deserve it and have it pretty well at home and school.

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