Dec. 17—CUMBERLAND, Md. — Threats of a school shooting that spread via social media across the country Thursday prompted local education and law enforcement officials to heighten security.
The messages, which warned people to avoid schools Friday because a shooting was planned, reportedly circulated from coast to coast via the social media app TikTok on Thursday.
In response to Cumberland Times-News questions including whether TikTok monitors, or alerts law enforcement to, threatening posts, Mahsau Cullinane of TikTok Communications provided the following statement:
"We handle even rumored threats with utmost seriousness, which is why we're working with law enforcement to look into warnings about potential violence at schools even though we have not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok."
School systems react
In a press release Thursday, Allegany County Public Schools Public Information Officer Mia Cross said staff members were notified of a possible threat of violence at schools.
"Law enforcement was immediately contacted and began an investigation into the incident," she said. "Officials learned that there is a general threat being made against schools nationwide circulating anonymously on social media. As a result, schools will follow ACPS safety response procedures until the investigation concludes."
At that time, Mountain Ridge High School was locked down, Cross said.
"As a precaution, there will be an increased police presence at all schools," she said.
Cross also said a report was received about a potential threat to Fort Hill High and Westmar Middle schools.
"Law enforcement was contacted, and in both cases the threats were investigated," she said. "It was determined that there is no danger."
Garrett County Public Schools via its website said it was "aware of threats that are circulating on social media" Thursday.
"These threats are general in nature and are not specific to this district," the school system said. "No threats have been made in or towards GCPS. We are continuing to monitor the situation but believe these threats are not imminent. Out of an abundance of caution, our school resource officers will be present and visible in the morning and throughout the day tomorrow."
A statement by Troy Ravenscroft, superintendent of Mineral County Schools in West Virginia, on the school system website's live feed Thursday wrote of the "anonymous, general threat being shared" via social media against schools in the U.S.
"Our school resource officers and law enforcement agencies take all threats very seriously," he said. "When learning of this viral threat today, we immediately investigated and have not found any valid or supporting evidence that this threat is credible to Mineral County Schools."
There might be an increase in police presence on school campuses Friday "as our law enforcement partners support MCS and are always striving to ensure students and staff know their safety is our utmost priority," Ravenscroft said.
"We continue to encourage students, staff, and families that if you see something, you say something," he said. "Please take this opportunity to talk with your student about the seriousness and resulting consequences of making any kind of threat and about the appropriate use of social media. Please encourage your students to speak with you, the SRO, or another adult at school if they see or hear something, so that immediate action can be taken."
Police departments respond
In a press release Thursday, Frostburg Police Department Chief Nicholas Costello said the city's police school resource officer was alerted to the possibility of a school threat involving a firearm at Mountain Ridge High School.
Additional Frostburg police responded to each of the three schools in the city "for preemptive, precautionary security presence," he said.
"The (ACPS) security team responded to Mountain Ridge High School as well," Costello said.
Mountain Ridge High School was placed on lockdown as a precautionary measure while the investigation was conducted.
"Officers learned of two incidents in which there was a possibility of the possession of weapons," he said.
FPD and ACPS conducted searches at the school and, at the request of FPD, Allegany County sheriff's deputies responded for private residential search activities outside of the city.
None of the searches revealed any corroborating evidence of firearms or weapons, Costello said.
"Based on the investigation, including interviews, video surveillance footage, and searches, the possible threats have been deemed unsubstantiated," he said. "The lockdown has been lifted; however, additional police presence will remain in schools as an additional safety precaution. FPD officers are at the schools in the City of Frostburg daily."
Cumberland Police Department Chief Chuck Ternent via press release Thursday said CPD was working with the Allegany County Board of Education on the school safety issue.
"This morning, CPD was contacted by a concerned citizen who advised they had seen a post on social media which was a photo of writing on a wall which read, 'Don't come to school Dec. 16th 2021 School Shooting.' The post was not directed towards and specific person or school."
CPD was assisted by the Allegany County Sheriff's Office and C3I to investigate the origins of the photo.
"The picture does not appear to be associated with any schools in Allegany County," Ternent said.
CPD takes "every potential threat seriously and the community is asked to continue to report anything suspicious," he said.
"In response to the increased tension in the community (CPD) has increased presence around our school in order to make students feel safe," Ternent said.
"Further, there have been several rumors surfacing about Cumberland area schools this morning. In response to several inquiries CPD would like to clarify none of the Cumberland Schools are on lock down, there has been no reports of violence or weapons in the schools and no arrests have been made this morning."
Across the country
In the past three days, news organizations from across the country reported that more than a dozen students had been arrested for threats of a school shooting.
On Monday, a teenage suspect in Texas was charged with making a terroristic threat, which is a felony, and booked in a juvenile detention center.
The same day, four students in California faced charges of making criminal threats of violence to a school campus.
A Virginia student on Wednesday was charged with possession of a firearm on school property, threats to shoot or burn at a school and underage possession of a firearm.
'A mixed blessing'
Dr. Rob Coad is a school psychologist in the Los Angeles area who has been practicing for 25 years.
He's also liaison for the National Association of School Psychologists' School Safety and Crisis Response Committee.
NASP is based in Bethesda, Maryland.
In an interview Thursday, Coad said school officials are becoming more aware of threats of violence than in the past.
"People are being better trained," he said of risk assessment skills, and students are "coming forward in greater numbers" to ask adults for help and support when they're exposed to threats of violence.
Social media provides a "mixed blessing" for schools, Coad said of platforms that allow rumors to spread, yet provide an opportunity for open discussions about how to handle threats of violence.
"It's a challenge for schools," he said.
School systems should keep communication open, as well as find students that need support, or would promote or participate in violent acts, Coad said.
"It's about meeting these kids and connecting with them," he said.
Teresa McMinn is the Digital Editor for the Cumberland Times-News. She can be reached at 304-639-2371 or firstname.lastname@example.org.