School districts urge vetting sources before spreading rumors

School districts urge vetting sources before spreading rumors

Following the tragic shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead, school districts across the United States have experienced violent threats, including Mississippi. Within the past couple of weeks, various districts have been the victim of social media threats to campuses, most recently the Richton School District.

"The Perry County Sheriff's Office contacted the Richton School District Administration to inform us of a post on Snapchat asking if anyone had heard of a threat to Richton High School that was supposedly going to happen on Friday, February 23, 2018," said Richton High School Principal Patrick Lee in a statement to WDAM. "The Perry County Sheriff's Office received a tip from an RHS student and began to investigate the situation. After contacting the student who made the post on Snapchat, it was determined that it was based on hearsay."

Lee said once they find the "source of the original post on Snapchat," they will take "appropriate action." On Friday morning, officials took extra security measures at the school.

"After discussing the situation with Perry County Sheriff Mitch Nobles and Chief Jerry Gardner, a joint decision was made that there was no immediate credible threat, but that we would increase police presence on campus to ensure the safety of our students, faculty, and staff, and to use this situation as preparation in case there ever was a credible threat to our campus," Lee said.

The supposed threat against Richton High School was not the first to capture the attention of law enforcement in the Pine Belt over the past week.

The conclusion to a 36-hour investigation this past weekend led to charges against a Petal Middle School student after making threats to harm students. Due to school policy, the punishment of the student could not be disclosed. According to authorities, the teen acted alone.

"We cannot tolerate inaccurate posts made by anyone that causes a disruption to our school environment," said Petal School District Superintendent Matt Dillon. "It is unfortunate the irresponsible actions of a student caused such turmoil in our schools and community. We take every perceived threat seriously. Our district will always do what is necessary to ensure the safety of our students and staff."

Thirty miles away, a student is in custody following a threat to Purvis High School. A photo circulating on social media displayed what appeared to be a boy holding a rifle with the caption "Think I'm playing Purvis?." Authorities confirmed the student is enrolled at Forrest County Agriculture High School.

"Please know that the safety of your student(s) is our top priority," said Lamar County School District Superintendent Tess Smith in a Facebook post. "Appropriate disciplinary action is occurring in each school-related case."

On Thursday, additional law enforcement was at Sumrall High School because of a threat on social media. It turned out that the threat was not credible as it was a post shared from another state by a local student. Not only are school districts investigating threats, but also calming fears due to an increase in rumors. Last week, administrators at Purvis High School had to discipline students after the spread of false information.

"This, in turn, led to rumors and miscommunication regarding student discipline issues at other schools in our district," said Smith. "Though there has been no substantiated threat to any of our schools, we have investigated each and every rumor and will continue to do so."

The Richton School District, along with others, are urging people not to post anything to social media that hasn't been confirmed by officials, especially in a time of heightened fear and security.

"If there ever was a credible threat, please rest assured that we would notify parents before school in an effort to be transparent," said Lee. "If the school district does not release a message on our call out system or post it on the Richton High School Facebook page, please do not aid in the spread of rumors and false information that does nothing but create panic in students and parents. It makes the job of protecting our students, faculty, and staff harder, because we have to devote time and resources to defuse chaos created by false information that should be spent on making sure our students, faculty, and staff are safe and secure."