A rumor that a student might bring a gun to Union High School on Monday prompted an investigation and constant communication between law enforcement and school officials over the weekend, as well as heavy security on campus Monday. Nothing was found to verify any “credible threat” to students or staff.
“The Sampson County Sheriff’s Office will continue to take a proactive approach to this complaint and will continue to actively monitor the situation,” read a prepared statement released Monday afternoon from the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office.
Union’s School Resource Officer (SRO) James Jones received information Saturday from the school principal that an unverified threat had been overheard by a student on Friday. It was reported that a student heard someone tell another student, “Don’t come to school on Monday.”
“This student waited until Saturday to tell another friend about the overheard conversation and they interpreted the ‘Don’t come to school on Monday’ as someone may bring a gun to school,” the Sheriff’s Office statement noted. “The second student later on Saturday contacted a school counselor and reported the conversation to them. The school counselor then reported the incident to the school principal, who then contacted the School Resource Officer.”
Sheriff’s Lt. Marcus Smith referred to the information as “10th hand,” but noted that all potential threats are treated seriously.
Jones, who was off-duty at the time, reported to work Saturday to start an investigation. He interviewed the student who overheard the conversation, but also every student who was reportedly around the student at the time. Following extensive interviews, it was learned that no mention of a gun was ever heard and that no other students overheard anyone say, “Don’t come to school on Monday.”
“The findings of this investigation on Saturday were reported back to school officials and, out of an abundance of caution, several officers have been stationed at Union High School throughout the day,” the Sheriff’s Office statement noted. “Additional interviews and further investigation has also continued throughout the day and have yielded no credible threat to students or staff.”
Many students were being picked up by parents Monday morning as a precautionary measure after hearing some details through social media and word of mouth, said Sheriff’s Capt. Doyle Grady, one of several deputies at the school, including Jones and others. He stayed at the school most of the day, even as the student parking lot emptied. Grady said the situation will continue to be monitored, with the possibility of increased deputy presence this week.
“Nothing (about the threat) has been substantiated,” he said Monday. “I’m still down here just to make sure everything is good. We have more deputies than usual down here. We didn’t go crazy, but we wanted to ensure we investigated this fully. We’ve talked to about 20 kids just today. We’re still following this up.”
Sampson County Schools released a statement early Monday afternoon, noting constant communication between school and law enforcement officials.
“There was a rumor circulating this weekend concerning Union High School. Our school officials have had constant dialogue and consultation with the Sampson County Sheriff’s Department in reference to this issue,” the statement read. “As an extra precaution, school officials had additional officers on site this morning. School has run smoothly and there have been no issues. The safety of our students is our number one priority.”
“We all worked together to investigate this further,” the lieutenant said. “We went down there this morning before the school opened just to have a general presence on the campus.”
Reached Monday, Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy commended the efforts of Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton and deputies from his department. Thornton said he talked with Bracy on Saturday, updating him on the investigation and informing him that additional officers would be sent to the school despite no substantive threat being found.
“He was gracious enough to send us additional law enforcement to school this morning to monitor the situation,” Bracy said. With safety being the main concern, Bracy said officials will continue to investigate matters that worry the public or parents, event if it’s just a rumor.
“The safety of our students is the number one priority at all of our schools and we’ll be diligent with this threat and take all threats seriously,” Bracy said.
Thornton told the superintendent at that time he felt there was “no need to get things stirred up” and cause unnecessary panic when law enforcement could not find a threat.
“So if there are any fingers to be pointed, they can point them at me,” the sheriff said. “This stuff gets out of control and it gets embellished sometimes, but we take it all seriously. It was investigated and we were going to have adequate officers there for any situation.”
As of Monday afternoon, Bracy reported that there’s a possibility that law enforcement will be at the school Tuesday afternoon, if Thornton felt it was necessary.
“I really lean on him in situations like this and trust his guidance and support,” Bracy said of Thornton.
Grady said the situation will be assessed going forward.
“It may or may not mean increased presence this week,” he said. “We’ve had situations like this before and sometimes we’re here for a day, but sometimes it could be two or three. We’ll continue to monitor it.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.