Social media hoax targets schools


Staff Writer

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Rumored threats concerning a planned school shooting Tuesday in Nash County appear to have been part of an elaborate hoax that is popping up in various locations across North Carolina in the wake of last week’s school tragedy in Florida.

Local law enforcement agencies increased their presence Tuesday in all schools in the Twin Counties and posted assurances on social media outlets that students were safe. School districts also sent out statements reassuring parents that the threats did not appear to be credible.

The threats that caused such concern in Nash County apparently began Monday night when calls came into the Wilson County 911 Communications Center mentioning Nash and Wilson counties by name in connection with school shooting threats. On Tuesday morning, the Wilson County Police Department posted the information on its Facebook page.

“The Wilson County 911 Communications Center received multiple calls late last night (2/19/2018) about some posts allegedly circulating on social media stating that there were going to be some school shootings in Nash and Wilson County today (2/20/2018). The callers were only able to advise that they had heard about these social media posts through others,” the post stated. “Other agencies across North Carolina also reported similar calls about these types of threats circulating on social media ... It appears that there may be some widespread trend or campaign. The Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, Nash County Sheriff’s Office, Rocky Mount Police Department and Wilson Police Department take these matters very seriously and are investigating these calls and social media posts.”

Also on Monday night, rumors of a school shooting at Rocky Mount Prep reportedly appeared on Snapchat. Todd Pipkin, head of school at Rocky Mount Prep, told the Telegram that the school quickly responded to the threat, but that students were never in any danger.

“A social media post was circulated that mentioned threats to multiple schools in North Carolina and one in Virginia — and Rocky Mount Prep was on that list,” Pipkin said. “We immediately contacted authorities and sent out emails and voice mail messages to parents to let them know that we were aware of the issue.”

However, Pipkin said the school had no problems on Tuesday.

“We had a quiet day at school,” Pipkin said. “The Rocky Mount Police Department did a phenomenal job of providing extra security Tuesday.”

Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone and his deputies also made extra patrols Tuesday, visiting every school in Nash County to check for safety issues and to reassure students and staff that the matter was under control. Chief Deputy Brandon Medina said the posting seems to be part of hoax or prank and that law enforcement officials in the state are tracking down IP addresses to try to locate the source of the rumors.

“This same post has been circulating through many other schools in the state of North Carolina, even as far west as Cleveland County. Every time the post gets passed on the name of a school or school district gets changed — therefore, based on what we’ve seen, we do not believe this is a legitimate threat but simply a social media hoax that continues to get shared. We are continuing to look into it and trying to determine the source,” a statement on the Nash County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page said.

Counties that have reported such threats since the weekend include Burke, Cleveland, Gates, Harnett, Hyde, Nash, Pasquotank, Pitt, Wayne and Wilson counties.

Dr. Shelton Jefferies, superintendent of Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, posted a statement about the issue, expressing his full cooperation with and confidence in local law enforcement officers.

Though Edgecombe County was not threatened, concerned parents called the Edgecombe County school district repeatedly on Tuesday because of rumors of school shootings and school lockdowns, district officials said. Both the Tarboro Police Department and the Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office posted statements reasurring the public in the face of what Tarboro police described as a threat that “clearly seeks to evoke societal fears.”

Susan Hoke, community coordinator for Edgecombe County Public Schools, said that some middle- and high-school students were concerned about the threats because they had access to social media, but that most elementary school students were oblivious to the threats.

“Overall, we have had a quiet day of learning here in Edgecombe County,” Hoke said.