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Twitter Complies With NYPD Subpoena After Threats Against Broadway Theater Discovered

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Police are trying to figure out who is posting messages on Twitter threatening to carry out an Aurora-style shooting rampage at a Broadway theater.

Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said the NYPD subpoenaed Twitter to order the social media site to produce the account holder's information after the disturbing tweets were discovered by investigators.

The NYPD confirmed to CBS 2's Don Dahler late Tuesday the subpoena was issued and Twitter complied.

An anonymous poster claimed he plans to attack theater-goers attending the Spike Lee-directed play at the Longacre Theater in Midtown. The theater is where Mike Tyson's one-man show, "Undisputed Truth," is currently playing.

Making terroristic threats, even if there's no intent to actually go through with the threat, is a felony in New York.

WCBS 880's Alex Silverman reports


"I might just shoot up this theater in New York," one tweet said.

"I'm serious, people are gonna die like aurora," said another.

"gosh i'm still making this hit list damn i wanna kill a lot of people," said a third.

The messages appear to have been tweeted by a Twitter user who goes by the handle "obamasmistress," whose first and last "name" appeared as "Anonymous Celebrity."

That account is no longer visible on Twitter.

LISTEN: Rep. Steve Israel Tells WCBS 880's Steve Scott Twitter May Face Wrath Of Congress
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Investigators with the NYPD intelligence division discovered the Twitter threats late Aug. 3 and into the early morning of Aug. 4, Browne said.

Police said it was the specific mention of the Longacre Theater that set off alarm bells.

"You have two mass shootings now in short order," Browne told WCBS 880's Alex Silverman, referring to the July 20 shooting in Colo. and the more recent mass shooting of a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

Twelve people were killed and 58 others wounded in the Colorado attack when alleged shooter James Holmes walked into an Aurora movie theater during a midnight showing of the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," and opened fire, police said.

Then on Sunday, seven people were killed, including the alleged gunman, and three others injured when police said Wade Michael Page started shooting inside a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis.

"We have somebody threatening a similar attack in New York, we want to know who that person is," Browne said.

Browne said police contacted Twitter using a system established by the social media site for emergencies, but said Twitter denied the request for the user's information claiming it didn't fall under the criteria of a serious threat.

"I'm not quite sure what their level would be when this person is threatening to go into a theater and kill people. It's certainly enough for us," Browne said. "We're getting a subpoena to order Twitter to produce that name."

Congressman Steve Israel issued a statement saying he was "extremely disappointed" that Twitter initially refused to release the information when originally asked.

"A threat to people's lives must always be taken seriously," Israel said.

As the investigation continues, the NYPD has vowed to protect this theater until, "they catch this guy," dispatching police officers and a heavily-armed Hercules unit to the evening performances.

"Social media is of increasing importance to law enforcement and criminal prosecutions," Larry Cunningham, an associate professor and associate dean at the St. John's University School of Law and a former criminal prosecutor, told WCBS 880. "In general, social media outlets do a very good job of cooperating with authorities, but in this case, however, Twitter should have given the information without a court order under their emergency procedures policy.  The threats were clear enough.  They could face potential liability if something had happened. In any event, a subpoena (signed off by a judge) can be obtained in major metropolitan areas very quickly, sometimes in as little as an hour."

Theater-goers CBS 2's Dahler spoke to Tuesday didn't seem as concerned.

"We're coming from Europe, so we noticed a lot of police officers on the street. It gives you the sense of security, I think, despite the threats. It'll be okay," said Mary Loanga of Paris.

"I think we're all more vigilant," added Glen Birmingham of Philadelphia.

"Why let the terrorists ruin the fun here in the good 'ole U. S. of A.?" said Carla Cwicker of Chicago.

WCBS 880 reached out to Twitter for a response, but the company said they would not comment on the issue. There was no immediate response to CBS 2's attempts to reach the social networking giant later in the day.

Twitter did, however, provide a link to their guidelines for law enforcement, which can be seen here.

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