Nov 14, 2018, 8:19 PM ET

Wisconsin school and police investigating photo of students appearing to pose in Nazi salute

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A Wisconsin school district and local police are investigating a photo of a group of mostly white high school boys giving what appears to be the Nazi salute after it drew strong backlash on social media.

The image of students in the Baraboo School District was posted on the @GoBaraboo parody account on Sunday.

The tweet has since been taken down, but police and school officials promised to investigate. The photo in question is from last spring, according to District Superintendent Lori Mueller.

"The school district is investigating this situation and is working with parents, staff and local authorities," Mueller said in a statement to students and parents. "If the gesture is what it appears to be, the district will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address the issue."

PHOTO: A group of Baraboo High School students in Wisconsin appear to pose in a Nazi salute, while posing for prom pictures in Spring 2018.Peter Gust
A group of Baraboo High School students in Wisconsin appear to pose in a Nazi salute, while posing for prom pictures in Spring 2018.

In a separate tweet posted on Monday, Mueller wrote, "The photo posted under the hashtag is "not reflective of the educational values and beliefs of the School District of Baraboo."

Baraboo police also tweeted that they are assisting the district's investigation since being made aware of a "controversial photo of a group of high school students."

On Wednesday, Mueller sent a letter to parents and community members as a follow-up to the school district's previous statements.

"There is little we can say about the details of the investigation at this time, but we will keep you updated as we are able to share more," according to the letter.

"Regardless of the details of the photo or the intentions in the hearts of those involved, the truth is this is an image that has rightly been described as hateful, frightening and disappointing. We are so very sorry that the actions of some of our students so understandably and deeply hurt people around the world."

The letter explained that the school district has heard from people around the world and that the school officials are in the planning stages with civic, community and faith leaders to host a community program.

"As a school district community, we are focused on ensuring everyone in our district, everyone in our community and others have an opportunity to come together to listen, learn and heal," the letter said.

The photo drew widespread disapproval, including from Wisconsin Gov.-elect Tony Evers and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland.

"This is why every single day we work hard to educate. We need to explain what is the danger of hateful ideology rising. Auschwitz with its gas chambers was at the very end of the long process of normalizing and accommodating hatred," the Auschwitz Memorial tweeted.

More than 7,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the school to the suspend students seen participating in the gesture.

“Please join me in asking their high school to suspend the boys for using hateful hand symbols at a public school event,” read the petition organized by the Care2 website, an organization meant to address social issues.

Not all the students in the photo participated in the gesture. Jordan Blue, a student in the top right of the photo whose arms remain at his sides, said in a statement that the photo was taken as students gathered at the Sauk County Courthouse for professional prom photos and that he "couldn't leave the photo as it was taken within five seconds."

“The photographer told us to raise our hands kind of in a way, and I knew at that point that some my classmates are very immature," he said in a separate interview. "So didn’t want to do that, and I saw what was happening and I felt so upset.”

Pete Gust, who operates Wheel Memories and has a son in the photo, refuted this on Tuesday in an interview with the Associated Press, saying he was asking the teens to wave goodbye to their parents before they headed off to the dance and never anticipated the image would draw such a visceral reaction. Gust said that the timing sequence of the shot he took of about 60 boys outside the local courthouse showed the students' arms extended in different stages as they raised them.

"There was nothing intended in any way shape or form to simulate anything that was offensive to anyone," Gust told the AP. "If there's any error, it was me in timing the shot."

Jonathan Schieber, a senior who appears in the photo, told ABC News there was no discussion of any racist aspect to the photo when it was taken. It was only after the photo garnered social media attention over the weekend that he started to hear about it. Schieber, who is black, was singled out due to his race, though he had both arms at his side in the photo.

"Somebody had made a meme or something, saying, 'We even got the black kid to throw it up,'" Schieber told ABC News. "I couldn't go nowhere without people being like, 'Are you that kid from the picture? Everybody was sharing it, talking about racial profiling. I went to school on Monday and people were trying to take pictures with me -- you're going viral, all that stuff.

"I left school because I was not having it," he added.

Wheel Memories posted thumbnails of several photos from the shoot on its website in the spring, including the one in question. The photos have since been removed and the agency wrote on its site in a message that it blames "jerks" and online negativity.

"It is too bad that there are those in society who can and do take the time to be jerks; knowingly and willingly to be jerks! The internet can be a wonderful tool but for some there is an overwhelming urge to destroy. The destruction may not be physical but instead it can be bullying that is intellectual or emotional," the photo agency wrote on its website.

"To anyone that was hurt I sincerely apologize. To those who have harmed them, we as society often ignore them I have chosen not to do that. YOU ARE JERKS! Grow up! Be kind, Be gentle, Be civil!"

ABC News has reached out to several other students in the photo who were identified through social media.

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  • Arc_Fault_One

    Didn't anybody read the article? It said it was the timing of the picture not a salute.

  • Gumby

    It's always interesting to see how many people who live in the USA post responses to articles about incidents like this saying it was "no big deal," or that giving a Nazi hand salute is not offensive, or that it can't possibly be a hate crime. These are people who invariably have no experience being the target of hate, threats of violence, or intimidation infringing on their civil rights. They are also people who have nobody in their family who came out of experiences wherein they were subject to violence and/or denial of their rights based on their race, religion, etc. They are also most often people who complain bitterly about people who say "happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," in outrage over perceived slights toward their personal religious beliefs that are actually just kind people trying to be respectful of the diversity of religious beliefs in our communities.
    The "no big deal" crowd votes for anyone who waves the flag and wears a stars and stripes lapel pin, while having no real idea what the flag stands for and what the constitution says about the rights enumerated therein being granted to all. These people will be the downfall of this nation - not the terrorists from outside our borders, but the citizens who remain willfully ignorant of the fragility of our democratic institutions and civil rights and who refuse to give others the respect they self-righteously insist on for themselves.

  • Birmingham Jail Cell

    As an Ashkenazic Jew, I would relish the opportunity to 'teach' these putrid guttersnipes about the consequences of "Trump's White Nationalist Nazism" and the deleterious effects such hate and racism has had on America.

  • kritikosman

    Hitler youth of America!

  • cindy_in_tx

    What is there to investigate? It's stupid, but I thought this country was still free. I guess not.

  • Carla Ramo

    Police investigation? Whatever... it's in very poor taste but c'mon man!

  • LMS1976

    Hope these little nazi wanna be’s get severely punished.

  • Helon Wheels

    The photographer's story makes NO sense. These kids were not waving goodbye to parents. For whatever reason, the photographer that this was a good idea, and most the kids probably had no idea what the "wave" represented. What an A$$.

    Maybe no crime was committed, but there certainly is room for education about the subject.

  • Dirt Nasty

    Being edgy in 2018 is illegal according to the left.

  • Outlaw

    The text on the tweet said "We even got the black kid to throw it up". Just disgusting, awful people.

  • Paul Muad'Dib

    Why are the police wasting money and time investigating this?

  • pksk531

    Have them pay their own way to the Holocaust Museum and meet survivors.