After a threat of violence against Statesboro High School was posted on social media Thursday morning, about 1,000 students were signed out to leave school as hundreds of parents, relatives and others descended on the school’s Lester Road campus.
Statesboro High administrators were notified of a potential threat that was sent via the Snapchat social media platform about 7:45 a.m. and took immediate precautions to safeguard the students and the campus, said Hayley Greene, public relations director for Bulloch County Schools.
The school was placed on a “soft lockdown,” Greene said, which limited movement within the building. Also, all those seeking entry to the building were allowed to do so only through the main front entrance.
Statesboro Police Deputy Chief Rob Bryan said detectives are working to identify the source of the threat, but had not been able to pinpoint the source as of Thursday evening. However, he said the police department and social media corporations must go through an extremely high volume of shared posts from the original Snapchat post to find out who specifically made the original threat.
In a statement posted on the Statesboro Police Department’s Facebook page, police said, “Detectives are working diligently to identify the individual who sent the threatening Snapchat text this morning. We have served a search warrant on the corporation controlling Snapchat and are waiting on their response.”
The threat was posted on Snapchat about 7:45 a.m. It was shared among most students and the school responded immediately, Greene said.
In a screen shot given to the Statesboro Herald, the threat read:
“Statesboro high gone regret suspending me…wait till 12:00 I’m gone shoot that bitch up so if any of y’all students and teachers in my way be ready to see Jesus”
Letting parents know
Greene said the first official communication of the incident from the school system was emailed to parents and guardians of record at 9:15 a.m. a recorded phone call was supposed to go out to all phone numbers on record at the same time. But a glitch, Greene said, in the system delayed the call until 10:45 a.m.
Parents and others started gathering in front of the school about 9 a.m. By 9:30, more than 200 people were waiting in line to sign students out of school. According to several parents in line, they waited more than an hour to get their children.
At one point, one parent who was inside the school lobby waiting to sign out their child said a group of 10 or 12 people who had been waiting outside started banging on the doors in frustration, wanting to know why the process was taking so long. A school official opened the door to speak to the parents and about 20 children left through the open door.
Shortly after, two police officers came to the front of the building and people in line remained orderly after that.
"I completely understand the concern and the initial response of parents to go to their children," Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson told reporters during a press conference Thursday afternoon. "This is why we're trying so hard in this community to communicate the protocols and through public safety officials ... but at the same time, when parents show up on site without us having the ability to communicate effectively with people who show up en masse, it can create a bottleneck as well as the potential for other issues. It's just something we're going to have to continue to work through."
During the press conference held in the boardroom of the Bulloch County Schools Board Office, Statesboro High principal Chad Prosser said possibly 1,000 of Statesboro High School's approximately 1,650 students signed out early.
"I do not know," he said. "If I had to estimate, it would be around a thousand."
School protocols during an emergency
During the press conference, a central message from the officials was that parents should follow the school system's published safety protocols in future emergencies.
The protocols can be read at www.bullochschools.org/schoolsafety, as well as on the schools' individual websites and in printed student handbooks.
"Do not call or go to your child's school during an actual emergency," is the protocol's first direct recommendation to parents. But the school officials acknowledged that this is difficult for parents.
Wilson called the protocol about parents not coming to school in emergencies "a request" meant to allow school officials to take care of their main responsibility, for the safety of students.
Greene said that knowing about the safety protocols and the training of school personnel, she felt that her son, a Statesboro High student, was safe at the school and she had him remain there through the day. She encourages parents to read the protocols and become active members of the "safety team."
"One of the crucial things that it covers is that law enforcement and school officials advise that when we do have emergency situations like today, that it's really the safest thing possible for parents to remain out of the area, for several reasons," Greene said.
Wilson and Prosser acknowledged that Statesboro High never emerged from its "soft lockdown" to a normal school day Thursday.
Prosser said the school would return to a normal school day Friday.
"We are," he said. "We've asked the Police Department for some extra presence just to help parents and students feel comfortable in the day, but we feel comfortable that we're going to proceed with school as we normally would."
Police interviewed several individuals Thursday as part of the effort to identify the original poster, Bryan said.
“The process (to learn the identity of the original sender) will take time,” Deputy Chief Bryan said.
Social media companies get a tremendous amount of such warrants served, he said, from all over the country, “and they have staff members whose full time job is to answer these warrants,” the SPD statement read.
Anyone with information about the person who actually created the threatening post is asked to call (912) 764-9911 or submit an anonymous tip to www.tipsoft.com or new.tipsubmit.com.
Herald staff writers Jim Healy, Al Hackle and Holli Saxon all contributed to this report.