“Students soon emailed me that they had found the photo on the internet”

Jeroen Croes, rector and director of the children’s community De Werkplaats in Bilthoven.Statue Marcel van den Bergh / by Volkskrant

I wanted to make a party out of it. And so, the rector and director Jeroen Croes (52) decided that two barrel organs would go in on Tuesday to welcome the students to the school, which had to close for two days last week. ‘In our primary school, the children would dance around the organ,’ says Croes. “It was different here in high school. After all, teenagers owe it to their ranks to be a little grumpy about it.

In his office, Croes recalls an eventful week, in which a hundred students and teachers at De Werkplaats Kinderbedrijven in Bilthoven received a threatening email. Initially the school remained open, then the mayor advised that it be closed. “I didn’t lose any sleep over it,” says Croes, but I did lose a lot of sleep. I was busy late and wanted to be the first to go back to school.’

weird message

It started with an image of a gun. He was sent to a group of students and teachers from a third grader’s email address last Tuesday at 10:16 p.m. He would say threateningly: ‘Hello, I will shoot you all on Thursday July 2nd, just enjoy your life’.

Croes was in bed watching Netflix at the time. However, he was quickly informed. “By 10:21 p.m. he had already received four phone calls and forty emails,” he says. From the Senior Workers, as we call the students here, and from their mentors. He also received a message from the student himself, who sent him an email that a strange message had been sent from his account and that he had not sent it himself.

Before worry could overpower him, Croes went into control mode. ‘Within fifteen minutes I called the boy’s parents on the phone. That conversation gave me a strong suspicion that he had nothing to do with it. This was somewhat reassuring. Croes also called the school’s IT department, with a request to close the boy’s account and see if anything notable had happened. And indeed: someone seemed to have connected from abroad.

A message to all students and parents followed. In it, Croes wrote about “a particularly annoying threatening email”, which “obviously” did not come from the student in question. “Since the message is very unpleasant, we will also ask the police to investigate.” Croes already knew then that the photo of the gun was not taken by the sender of the message, he says. “The students quickly sent me an email saying that they had also found the photo on the internet.”

stripped of reports

As the students arrived at school last Wednesday, Croes conferred with several detectives in his office, who promised to get to the bottom of the matter. The hacked student, ‘a kind and quiet boy’, also joined us.

In the evening, Croes was summoned to the town hall. There he heard that the triangle of mayor, police and Public Ministry advised him not to let the students come to school the next day as a precaution. “They told me they got more worried during the day,” says Croes. “The account was cunningly taken over. Apparently, there was someone behind who was willing to put in a lot of effort.

And so he sent another message to parents and students, who soon began bombarding him with questions. ‘For example: do we place screening gates? Or: Is my French exam still in progress? Meanwhile, the press also picked up on the case on Thursday. “I was surprised by the reports,” says Croes. ‘And especially about the choice to also distribute the photo and the text of the email. With that you give a recipe to other young people: you have to send something like that to attract maximum attention. I’m upset about that.

Malicious code

Because detectives had yet to identify a perpetrator, Croes also decided to close the school on Friday. And he put a line through the Whitsun weekend with his family in the Ardennes. He had to make sure school could open safely on Tuesday, and that parents and staff could live with it.

Preparations were already underway when police called on Sunday. They had arrested a 17-year-old boy from Oirschot. “I felt a few pounds lighter when I heard that,” says Croes. He went to the store to buy cigarettes and found himself whistling. “It’s not until it’s over that you realize how uptight you were.”

The suspect, whose connection to the school is unclear, has since been released. According to the Public Ministry, he was chosen because he is a minor, has no criminal record, and it did not seem that he really wanted to carry out his threat. He remains a suspect in the investigation.

“It was my understanding that the guy was using a double VPN connection to log in,” says Croes. A costume upon a costume. He obtained the password by putting a file with malicious code on that student’s laptop. The student clicked on that, which gave the boy access to his email.

The director is not worried about the child’s release. “The investigation revealed that the suspect had no plans to come here, much less with a weapon. I have every reason to trust that.

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