At least 13 South Mississippi schools have confirmed investigating threats of violence while a heightened sense of awareness prompted concerns of a possible shooting at a middle school.
The perceived threats have been increasing after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14. Fourteen students, a coach, the athletic director and a teacher were shot to death with an AR-15, by a former student who had been expelled.
Officials at North Gulfport Middle School ordered a lockdown Thursday after Gulfport Police Dispatch received a call reporting the sound of gunshots in the area. The call came in at 12:35 p.m.
“Police searched the entire campus and gave the all-clear,” said Trang Pham-Bui, Harrison County School District spokeswoman. “Everyone is safe.”
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The school district announced the lockdown Thursday afternoon on its Facebook page.
Gulfport police Sgt. Clayton Fulks said at first police believed the incident was a prank call of shots fired.
“Of course we didn’t know it was a prank initially,” Fulks said. “We responded as if it was a real thing. We cleared the school and went door to door to make sure everyone was safe.”
Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania said in a press conference Thursday evening it was not actually a prank call, and that scared students had believed they heard gunshots.
After the lockdown was lifted, Papania was surrounded by parents, fielding questions.
A prayer circle quickly formed after he was finished.
“Love, love, love,” said Sandra Willis, who was in the middle of the circle. “We are one. It ain’t a racial issue. It’s a spiritual war that’s going on.”
Willis has two grandchildren who attend North Gulfport.
“It was a relief when we heard it was a prank call, it really was,” she said. “But you have these copy cats out here doing all this stuff. Whoever was doing this, to the extent of the law they need to be gotten.
“They need to put a stop to this, make them pay for what they’ve done and make an example out of them.”
Police had been at the school earlier this week to investigate a possible threat made by a student.
The Gulfport Police Department has school resource officers on all campuses in the city, and they were involved in the investigations.
“I know parents want to know what actions are being taken, but the students have the right to privacy,” Papania said. “There has to be a certain level of trust that school officials and police are doing all that can be done. I can assure you the recent incidents at the two Gulfport schools did not demonstrate viable threats.”
Ocean Springs High
Ocean Springs High School also had a threat Thursday.
Sheriff Mike Ezell said in a press release that two 9th graders were taking into custody. A 14-yearold and 16-year-old were talking about “shooting up the high school” when another student overheard and reported them, he said.
They are held at Jackson County Youth Court on a misdemeanor charge of interfering with a school session.
Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson said in a release Thursday evening a 15-year-old was arrested on a felony charge of posting an injurious message.
School resource officers received a complaint and a photo from an Instagram account that threatened to harm students. The officers were able to identify the student in the photograph.
Other threats this week
Three other schools this week have confirmed possible threats had been made and were under investigation. There also were several threats last week.
Bayou View Elementary School administrators in Gulfport removed a fifth-grade student from the campus after investigating a threat, according to a post Tuesday on the school’s Facebook.
“We have investigated this incident, have spoken to the parents, and have disciplined the student,” the post said.
Hancock County deputies arrested a 15-year-old Hancock Middle School student.
A recorded message was issued Thursday morning to parents saying there had been a threat made against the school. According to the Sea Coast Echo, the student responsible was taken into custody when they arrived at school. No gun was found. The Hancock County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the incident.
A 15-year-old student in Stone County was taken into custody on a cyberstalking charge Thursday after posting a threatening message on Facebook, officials said. The post appeared earlier Thursday. The Stone County School District confirmed the threat on its Facebook.
The George County School District has issued a news release saying it was aware of “recent media posts regarding threats.” The school district said it is investigating the threats and is putting additional precautions in place.
In recent investigations, Long Beach police arrested two 17-year-old students accused of making threats.
School officials across the region are encouraging students to speak up if they hear of or see a threat. They also have said they have added security measures.
Student found with a knife
A Hancock High student was turned over to Youth Court on Thursday after being found with a knife at school. The incident was not reported as a threat, Chief Deputy Don Bass said.
The student with the knife talked with other students about threatening a teacher, but the teacher was not aware of the comments; but officials learned the student had a knife, Bass said.