Shooting hoax at Okemos High causes angst, district-wide closures
MERIDIAN TWP. — The threat of a shooting at Okemos High School on Tuesday, quickly determined to be a hoax, briefly set the school community on edge and then left law enforcement, educators and parents to pick up the pieces.
All Okemos schools closed Tuesday in response to the chaos; they will remain closed on Wednesday.
Assistant Special Agent in Charge David Porter of the Grand Rapids FBI office said agents are working with the Michigan State Police and other law enforcement to investigate the calls that falsely reported active shooters at schools throughout Michigan, including Okemos. All were made around the same time on Tuesday morning and officials are working to determine if they're connected and who made the calls.
"It's not a joke and unfortunately we live in an era where we see what happens when this is real," Porter said. "The drills aren't a joke. The responses aren't a joke. The resources that are spent on something like this aren't a joke. When you make false reports like this, it's dangerous and it's a crime. You put people at risk."
Meridian Township Police Chief Ken Plaga said Ingham County Central Dispatch received one 911 call reporting the incident shortly after 9 a.m. Police were on the scene within 3 minutes, he said Tuesday afternoon.
Plaga said law enforcement officers have confirmed the phone number from where the call originated and they are continuing to investigate where the caller would have been located.
Students and faculty are evacuating #okemoshighschool. Heavy police presence on scene. #okemos @LSJNews pic.twitter.com/nwbpOjEEmq
— Matthew Dae (@mdslsj) February 7, 2023
Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth said it was notable that only one call was made. If the shooting had been real, he said, they would have expected multiple calls.
"Within 6 minutes of the call, the first two Meridian Township police officers had cleared the room where supposedly this shooting had happened," Wriggelsworth said. "That is an incredible response.”
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The school district implemented its emergency response plan, clearing Okemos High School and communicating with parents that students would be released "by car line only" at all of the district's building. All afternoon and evening events were canceled for Tuesday. Classes also were canceled Wednesday.
“Keeping our kids and staff safe is an incredible responsibility that we take very, very seriously. We have safety protocols that are in place and practiced regularly throughout our system, K-12," Superintendent John Hood said. "Our students and staff did a remarkable job implementing those, without question, from the beginning to the reunification with parents at the end of the event today.”
Schools officials said mental health counselors will be available at all school buildings from noon to 2 p.m. Wednesday for students and parents. Counselors also will be available when schools reopen Thursday.
Similar hoax shooting calls were made to schools in the Jackson, Battle Creek, Portage, Ann Arbor, Saginaw, Muskegon and Detroit, officials said.
“We are working in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies to find this person and bring criminal charges,” Plaga said during a press conference Tuesday.
Ingham County Prosecutor John Dewane urged anyone with knowledge of the incident to come forward so the perpetrator can be held accountable.
“These reports are terrifying to teachers, parents, students, community members, law enforcement and anyone who has a loved one inside an education building” Dewane said in a news release. “Any threat of violence against our schools, even when deemed to be false, should be addressed to the fullest extent of the law. This was no mere hoax or victimless prank. For many students and their families, the terror was all too real.”
Dewane said he believes more than one person knows the details behind the false shooting report.
“Making threats of violence against a school has very serious consequences, whether a person is joking or not,” he said. “Students could face discipline within the school district to include expulsion or suspension. Likewise, individuals could face criminal prosecution. My office takes these cases very seriously and will hold offenders accountable.”
Contact Mark Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMarkJohnson.
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Shooting hoax at Okemos High causes angst, district-wide closures