School officials, police address rumors of incident at LHS

School officials, police address rumors of incident at LHS
Statement from the Laurel School District. (Photo source: WDAM)
Statement from the Laurel School District. (Photo source: WDAM)

LAUREL, MS (WDAM) - Officials said an incident at Laurel High School was "blown out of proportion" after rumors started swirling on social media Tuesday.

Laurel police Capt. Tommy Cox said officers responded to Laurel High School around 11 a.m. for a report of a man with a gun outside of the school. Cox said when officers arrived, Erich Taylor, 30, was taken into custody across from the school, but did not have a weapon.

"We're not saying that it was nothing. It was obviously something we take very seriously," said Cox. "But, because of the social media blow up, it appears to be made out to be more than it was."

Several concerned parents reached out to WDAM on Tuesday after the incident, asking why they never received a notification from the school district.

Laurel School Superintendent Dr. Toy Watts said the school was placed on a brief lock down, but at no time were the students at Laurel High School in danger.

"Due to the ongoing investigation, a notification was not sent out to the parents due to the need for conclusive and accurate information on the validity of the claim."

"I imagine this has been going on since the beginning of time, where people add things, untrue facts to stories and they spread like wildfire. Especially something this sensationalized is school shootings. It's going to spread a lot quicker," said Watts.

Laurel Police said there was never a gunman on campus, despite speculation and rumors shared on social media outlets, like Facebook.

However, Cox said investigators found an "altered" weapon inside Taylor's home, which is near campus. The police department is investigating the firearm with help from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"Our investigators have been in contact with the ATF in reference to possibly picking up charges in regards to altering the weapon," said Cox.

According to Cox, Taylor is currently in police custody pending a mental health evaluation.

Taylor was arrested for a similar incident in the early morning hours of March 9.

Man carrying a rifle on Laurel High campus arrested early Friday

Taylor was charged with possession of a weapon on school property after an officer reportedly found him carrying a rifle on the high school campus around 2 a.m. that morning. No students were on campus during the incident,

Cox said Taylor's previous arrest, and the spread of misinformation through social media, played a part in what happened Tuesday.

Laurel police are working with Mississippi Crisis Intervention Response Team to prevent further problems, Cox said.

Watts said she wants students to continue to report anything suspicious to keep schools safe.

"We want them to be part of that reporting process, because we do need that," said Watts. "But, at the same time, we do not need all of the extra things that have been thrown in with it."