A social media post claiming a student had a gun at Armstrong Middle School caused “panic and confusion” on Thursday, but students and employees remained safe through the day, according to district officials.
Sammy Shumaker, chief school resource officer at AMS, told The Dispatch the school operated normally, and he dispelled rumors there was a gun on campus or that the school had observed a lockdown.
“Social media posts caused a panic and created confusion in our school,” Shumaker said. “There has not been any incident.”
Assistant Superintendent David Baggett told The Dispatch once the school received the report of a possible gun, officials followed “normal protocol” and confirmed there wasn’t a firearm on campus. He said the social media post caused “a small firestorm.”
Baggett confirmed the post in question was one by Tawander Wilson on Facebook, which claimed a group of “thugs” is “roaming the halls” at AMS and included a picture of an alleged student with a gun. The alleged student’s face is covered by an emoji in the picture.
Wilson is an adult.
The post, and several others that accompanied it, has since been deleted.
Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District public information officer Nicole Thomas said Thursday the Facebook post “created a frenzy of misinformation that is fueling untruths.”
She said SOCSD is working with Starkville Police Department to investigate the situation.
Parents swarm campus
As Wilson’s post began gaining traction, parents swarmed the AMS campus to check out their children, with lines stretching well beyond the AMS main entrance from after noon until nearly 2 p.m.
Bari Gaire, who is employed at Dirt Cheap, said her daughter had texted her from the AMS cafeteria that she had heard someone had a gun. Gaire said she came straight to the school.
“I left all my customers in line and came here,” she told The Dispatch. “After what happened in Florida, you can’t take any chances with stuff like this.”
Dominic Ellis found out about the incident from her eighth-grade daughter. She said she was afraid of losing another child, after her son D’Shante Nix, was killed in a hit-and-run in September.
Ellis said she also didn’t find out that the rumor was a hoax until she arrived at the school.
“Even if it was a prank, I didn’t know that until I got here,” Ellis said. “I thought about what Florida went through (on Wednesday) — you don’t take a chance with that.”
School officials did not have an official tally on how many students checked out early from AMS by press time.
Thursday’s scare comes after a Wednesday school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that resulted in 17 fatalities.
Baggett said he understood that parents would be particularly sensitive to threats after the shooting. However, he emphasized that the school district maintains student safety as a top priority.
“Our first and foremost responsibility is to our students’ safety and wellbeing,” Baggett said. “Even before we’re educating them in the classroom, we have to make sure they’re feeling safe and secure. If we don’t have that, as much as we want to teach them, we won’t be able to if they don’t feel safe.”
‘An unnecessary disruption’
SOCSD Superintendent Eddie Peasant said, in an issued statement, Thursday’s scare is a reminder of how powerful social media can be, and emphasizes that it must be used correctly.
“As powerful as social media can be as a communication tool, we just saw (Thursday) morning how a post that isn’t true can create an unnecessary disruption for students, teachers and families,” Peasant said. “We are constantly vigilant in monitoring student safety. When misinformation is shared it desensitizes awareness of real issues. That’s why responsible use of social media is so important.”
Had there been a lockdown or actual emergency situation, Thomas said SOCSD would have enacted its normal notification procedures — including its mass text and phone messaging system to parents, social media updates and statements to conventional media.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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