Every year, Georgia high school school student John George III dresses up as Santa Claus in an effort to spread some holiday cheer. This year he wanted to hand out candy to his fellow classmates.
On Tuesday, the 16-year-old promised his peers a "big surprise" in a post on his Facebook page, assuming that they would know he was referring to his annual Christmas tradition. "Let the games begin," he wrote at the end of his message -- a signature he reportedly includes on several of his posts.
That was enough cause for one concerned Crawford County High School parent to call the police, who showed up at John's door later that night. On Wednesday morning, police officers escorted the teen to the principal's office of his high school, where he was told that he would be suspended from school indefinitely -- until he was told otherwise.
John's father, John George Jr., told the Telegraph that his son is hurt and embarrassed after the incident. He added that school officials overreacted to the Facebook post.
“It’s very unfair," the father said. "They took it the wrong way."
John George III says he will never look at Christmas the same way again and has reportedly asked his father a number of times whether he is going to jail.
“He feels that he was done wrong, and he doesn’t really understand it all yet,” George said.
"...taking something innocent like this and turning it into, like, World War II, it's ridiculous," his son, George III, told WMAZ.
But officials at Crawford County High School believe they acted with the necessary caution, especially after the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. last week. In that shooting, 20 children and six adults were killed before the shooter, Adam Lanza, took his own life.
Police Capt. Trent Anderson said officers merely responded to an alarmed parent's call on Tuesday night and went to the George resident to investigate.
“The prank was that he was going to dress up in a Santa outfit,” Anderson said. “We didn’t find any wrongdoing, so we turned it over to the school.”
Superintendent John Douglas said following an investigation, the school will hold a hearing after the Christmas break. In a statement, the school reportedly called the Facebook post "disturbing."
“If I had to do it over again, we’d do the same thing, just to be cautious,” Douglas added. He went on to say that it would be tragic if “we knew about this ahead of time, and we did nothing, and something happened."
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The procedure to deal with perceived threats varies depending on the situation, and in this case, school officials thought the wording of John’s Facebook post was “kind of disturbing,” Douglas said.
School officials especially felt the line “let the games begin” was sinister because it has been used by villains in movies such as “Batman” and “Saw.”
John uses that phrase as a tag line for many of his messages because he is a big fan of those movies, George said, but he is not a violent person. The family does not own guns and are not gun enthusiasts, he added.
In many ways, John is a typical teenager. He likes to play video games, watch wrestling and jump on his trampoline. He also has a big heart and loves to celebrate holidays. In addition to his Christmas stunt, John also dresses up for St. Patrick’s Day and hands out candy on Valentine’s Day, George said.
Douglas said school officials were trying to ensure the safety of all of their students.
“We’re not trying to hurt this kid,” he said. “We want to make a learning experience out of this. We want all of us to learn a little something. Everyone’s got to be more sensitive to what’s going on around us.”
Do you think school officials acted appropriately by suspending the student?