School shooting rumors prompt Summit County parents to pull students
The Safe2Tel line
On the first day of class, Summit High School students were given student IDs with the number for Safe2Tel, an anonymous hotline made solely for reporting suspicious or dangerous activity. Students can call the line 24 hours a day to report threats, bullying, criminal activity and other concerns.
Before taking to social media, law enforcement and school district officials urge students to call the hotline at 1-877-542-SAFE (7233).
Rumors of potential violence at Summit High School swirled around social media Friday morning, prompting the sheriff’s office to bolster on-campus security as students went about their daily routines.
On Thursday afternoon, SHS administrators informed the Summit County Sheriff’s Office of an altercation between two students. School officials and the sheriff’s office were investigating the altercation internally until early Friday morning, when parents and students took to Facebook with rumors of a possible school shooting. The sheriff’s office had agreed Thursday night to send extra security, and six deputies were dispatched to the school Friday morning as a precaution while investigating rumors of gun-related violence.
“We handle anything like this with the utmost seriousness,” Summit County Sheriff John Minor said. “We are invested in our community and our school and our children. We’re trying to figure out what happened between two students and what makes the job more difficult right now are the rumors.”
As minors, the names of the students and nature of the altercation have not been released. Neither student was in class on Friday, according to a school district release sent to all parents of SHS students.
Sheriff’s deputies remained at SHS throughout the day, again as a precaution, and no guns or other weapons were confiscated, Minor said.
Shortly after classes began, the staff made an announcement over the school intercom to inform students why deputies were stationed across the campus. As the day went on, teachers, administrators and counselors made it a priority to talk with concerned students and dispel any classroom rumors or fears.
Kelly Finley, an SHS counselor, said she reached out to several students she believed would be disrupted by the incident. A handful of students came to the counseling office during the day, but she says the vast majority of questions came from parents.
“We definitely fielded a lot of calls from concerned parents,” Finley said. “Obviously, it got out of control on social media, but I didn’t have a ton of kids who were upset. I had more parents saying, ‘I’m going to take my kid out of school,’ than students who didn’t want to be there.”
FACT VERSUS DIGITAL FICTION
School administrators and law enforcement officers are still investigating the incident, but as Finley notes, the social media rumor mill is making it difficult to separate fact from fiction.
“Unfortunately, in this day and age, social media can almost take things to a hysteria level that can make things worse,” she said. “This was a serious matter and was seriously addressed, but the way it blew up was unfortunate.”
Rumors ballooned on Facebook long before classes began Friday morning, when several SHS parents left concerned postings on the page One Man’s Junk Summit County. The page is a local hub for selling and buying goods, much like Craigslist, but it’s also a popular outlet for swapping information. A string of posts recently helped one local reunite with her husky after the dog went missing for more than two weeks.
Shortly after one concerned parent mentioned a potential school shooting, dozens of commenters began responding one after another. By the time the post was removed, nearly 100 comments were on the thread, ranging from requests for more information to speculation about the involved students’ identities. Several parents noted they would not send their children to class, while others wanted to know what bus one of the suspected students takes to school.
“We called the police last night they said he will not be at school today and will have extra cops at school this morning,” one post read.
For law enforcement and school officials, a direct call to the sheriff’s office or local police department is the best route for concerned parents. Minor says it’s already difficult to parse through information when a case involves the threat of school violence, and online rumors can make it even harder for deputies to quell legitimate threats.
“Don’t use conjecture and rumors on social media, especially in a situation like this,” Minor said. “If it’s an immediate emergency and you think it will involve any violence, call law enforcement. People shouldn’t rely on Facebook for verified information. If you’re worried, we’re worried and we want to know what’s happening.”
For students, SHS has partnered with Safe2Tel, a nationwide notification system that anyone — students, faculty and parents — can dial to anonymously report threats of violence or other concerns. The calls are routed directly to local law enforcement, which then passes the information to school administrators.
Along with the Safe2Tel, the school district has a set of standard procedures for any acts of violence, rumored or real. They include talking with the involved student or students and investigating outside influences, such as access to a gun at home, or recent cases of bullying.
Rumors, particularly in the Wild West of social media, can hamper a counselor’s ability to find the root of a problem, says Travis Avery, the school district’s emergency response coordinator. When concerned parents and students took to Facebook, he says the sheer amount of conflicting information was enough to muddle the facts, even though the intentions were sincere.
“It almost becomes a game of telephone,” Avery said. “There’s a lot to be gleaned there, on social media, but the flip side is what happened today, where rumors got out of control and people weren’t working with factual information.”
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