After an unprecedented number of recent school shootings, law enforcement officers and school officials take even the most seemingly benign rumors very seriously.
Last week, Milford Mill Academy, a public high school in Baltimore, MD, was under police investigation and placed on a lockdown lasting several hours, after a report of a gun inside the school. Following the extensive investigation, police found the threat to be a rumor perpetuated on social media.
Baltimore County police said they received information regarding a gun threat at 11:09 a.m. on Wednesday, December 10. The campus was immediately placed on lockdown. Police officers ultimately found no weapon, and concluded the incident began with a rumor that a student intended to shoot up the school.
A 15-year-old freshman who has special needs came into the school and stood in the lobby for approximately 10 minutes. Though he was not making threats and was simply standing, someone took his picture and circulated it on social media, which in turn created the rumor that there was a gun on the campus, according to Baltimore County police Cpl. John Wachter.
Police said after viewing the picture, a concerned student called a parent who then alerted the school. During their investigation, police interviewed the student in question and found he posed no threat to anyone.
The lockdown was later downgraded to an alert status close to 1 p.m. Police said the alert status is used to secure access to the building during a community emergency occurring outside of a school building.
Worried parents crowded in front of the high school, eagerly awaiting information. Police diligently searched the campus while students remained in their classrooms throughout the duration of the lockdown, communicating with their parents via text.
After having been rattled by the situation, some parents opted to take their children home after the lockdown was lifted. “They’ll be back tomorrow when my nerves are better, but right now, I don’t feel comfortable leaving them in school today,” said Theresa Johnson, a parent.
Some parents were disappointed in what they felt was a lack of communication regarding the incident. “I think they should’ve notified parents a little sooner, maybe send out a robocall because it’s really disheartening to get a text message saying there’s a shooter loose in a school and I haven’t gotten any communication from the school,” said Theresa Johnson, a parent.
Smartphones have been paramount in expediting and facilitating communication, with the number of smartphone users growing by 42% annually around the globe. However, smartphone and social media use seems to be a double-edged sword, as seen in this situation.