By JASON KOTOWSKI, Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Students quickly spread rumors through social media regarding a hit list and possible shooting at Standard Middle and North High schools, but investigators determined the rumors were false and there were no credible threats.
“We believe it was a rumor that got out of control by text messages and social networking sites like Facebook,” Kern County sheriff’s spokesman Ray Pruitt said Tuesday.
People are sharing their thoughts at http://www.facebook.com/BakersfieldCalifornian. Here are some of the responses:
Kimberly Padgett: This was my sons school one of his friends texted him at midnight concerned about this. Even tho a rumor it's got kids all shaken up..
Angelina Maria Ishmael: The brats that started the rumors need to be punished! This is NOT somthing to joke about!!! Familys greive over the ones they have lost in school shootings and some punk kids think its a funny prank?!?! I hope the parents handle this since no one else is.
Dee Sephus: After what has happened elsewhere no one can blame parents for keeping kids home. I'm sure parents at those other schools thought it always happens somewhere else.
Catherine Foster: I am not sending my kids to school either. Our officials need to tell us what they are doing to protect our students.
Marilyn Adams-George: Glad the Sheriff's Department took it so seriously. The perps need some kind of punishment to at least set an example of no tolerance for such behavior.
“It looks like a comment a student made that got out of hand,” he said.
Deputies said they received an anonymous report at 7:30 p.m. Monday of a possible upcoming shooting at Standard Middle School. No students at North High were involved in the rumor.
Deputies interviewed the students involved and determined a comment was made by a student to the effect that a student at the school was going to shoot another student, Pruitt said. From that comment, rumors began circulating concerning a hit list and also a possible shooting at North High.
“We were able to talk to all of the parties involved and there was no direct threat,” Pruitt said.
Deputies talked to the three students and their parents, and the homes of two of the students were searched, Pruitt said. He said he couldn’t say whether guns were found in the homes, but investigators don’t believe the students had access to weapons.
No charges are pending.
Standard School District released a statement saying that when they learn of a threat they contact law enforcement and don’t allow students or employees on site until they’ve been told there’s no danger. The statement says the district works collaboratively with law enforcement to ensure students are always safe.
Social media influence
The rumors that came to light Monday have presented a valuable teaching moment, the district’s statement says.
“Our administration has visited every classroom and talked to students about the importance of using social media and all technology with good intentions,” the statement says.
It only takes a few minutes for one inaccurate online post to go viral and spread panic, said Melissa Agnes, who runs a crisis management firm specializing in social media crisis management and online reputation management.
“It’s something that touches us all,” said Agnes, of the Montreal-based Melissa Agnes Crisis Management. “We see a tweet out there, and right away people have a habit of seeing it and thinking it’s true without checking the facts.”
People often feel bolder writing certain things online than they would telling someone in person, Agnes said. Youth, as well as school faculty and parents, need to be educated about what’s appropriate to say online to help prevent these types of events.
She said the best way to stop one of these rumors once it’s started is to monitor online platforms revolving around you and your community or industry, and have plans in place to respond when something alarming is spotted.
Rumors, lockdowns after Taft shooting
North High Principal Alan Paradise referred calls to Kern High School District Police Chief Mike Collier. The chief said there were no delays at North High Tuesday morning, and the rumors did not impact the school schedule in any way.
He said the district has dealt with rumors and lockdowns just about every day since the Jan. 10 Taft Union High School shooting that left a 16-year-old critically injured.
Those incidents include Highland High being placed on lockdown after burglary suspects were spotted nearby Jan. 14, and Golden Valley High went on lockdown and two teens were arrested following an incident during which a campus police officer thought one of the teens was armed Jan. 15.
“People are scared, and some people think it’s funny, I guess they’re entertained, by putting that information out there,” Collier said.
Doing that, however, is a crime. Collier said students who start those rumors could be charged with making a terrorist threat.
The chief said it can be difficult to track down who exactly started the rumor, and sometimes you end up in an endless cycle of suspected students claiming other students were the ones who started it.
Pruitt said deputies were stationed outside Standard and North High Tuesday morning to alleviate parents’ concerns. Many parents called the department Monday evening upon hearing of the rumors, and every call was returned letting them know what had been discovered.
Pruitt said he realizes parents in the community are concerned, and deputies will continue to investigate any threat or rumor of a threat they receive.
“We understand people are being hyper-vigilant, and we are too,” he said.