Just days after the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, threats made through social media to the Petal School District during the weekend forced a full investigation over a 36-hour period.
The suspect, a juvenile, was identified following the investigation and is being disciplined to the fullest possible extent under school policies, according to authorities.
“We cannot tolerate inaccurate posts made by anyone that causes a disruption to our school environment,” Petal School District Superintendent Matt Dillon said in a statement on Monday. “It is unfortunate the irresponsible actions of a student caused such turmoil in our schools and community.”
As a precaution, additional uniformed officers from the Petal Police Department and the Forrest County Sheriff’s Office were at all school campuses on Monday.
“We take every perceived threat very seriously,” Dillon said. “Our district will always do what is necessary to ensure the safety of our students and staff.”
Casey Cameron, a senior at Petal High School, attended school Monday and said the additional presence of law enforcement helped to relieve some of the anxiety regarding the situation.
“Everyone seemed a bit on edge, especially with what happened in Florida being so recent,” he said. “There were a lot of conversations going on about our safety or lack thereof, but the presence of so much law enforcement seemed to really help.”
In the statement, Dillon explained that while social media can be a valuable communication tool, such posts are problematic.
“When misinformation is shared it desensitizes awareness of real issues,” he said. “That’s why responsible use of social media is so important.”
The false threats, which initially circulated through Snapchat, caused many to opt out of attending all together.
“After I heard about the threat, I called some friends to see what they would be doing. Most of them said it would be better to miss school than to come and have something like that happen,” PHS senior Brett Lawless said. “Some students still came to school. Others, however, stayed home where they knew they would be safe.”
Lawless was one of the students who chose to stay home that day.
Sophomore Lizzy Davis added that most of her classes had at least 10 absent students on Monday.
Dillon explained that on a typical day, the district’s average attendance percentage is anywhere from 94-97 percent. However, Dillon said that the average attendance percentage for Monday was roughly 69 percent.
“I didn’t expect that many people to miss school, but threats like that aren’t taken lightly, especially after how many school shootings that have been nationwide,” Lawless said.
Dillon encouraged community residents to remain vigilant when it comes to overall safety.
“We urge all students, parents and community members to contact appropriate authorities anytime there is a concern for safety,” he said in the statement. “We appreciate the many parents and community members who offered their prayers and support as we dealt with this situation.”