School shooting hoax leaves Westside teens, parents shaken
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Deputies, SWAT officers, a bomb squad, and other first responders rushed to Westside High School after an active shooter was reported Wednesday morning in what Gov. Brian Kemp called a “cruel hoax” that affected other campuses across the state.
After about two hours, panicked parents were allowed to sign their kids out of school.
“Our students and staff are safe,” the Richmond County School System said in a statement.
But the situation was tense earlier when at least four marked Richmond County Sheriff’s Office vehicles sped west on Washington Road around 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, accompanied by seven unmarked vehicles, an ambulance, and a fire truck. They were joined at Westside by a Richmond County Sheriff’s Office bomb squad van.
In an update Wednesday afternoon after the crisis had passed, Sheriff Richard Roundtree said the 911 center received a call at 10:32 a.m. reporting an active shooter at Westside with five people injured.
Authorities didn’t know the source of the call or whether the voice on the other end was a human or a computer.
Deputies responded immediately and then notified the Richmond County School System.
The school district confirmed around 11:25 that the situation fit the pattern of reports elsewhere in Georgia.
“A potential threat against the school was called into the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. The call used the same message sent in threats determined to be unsubstantiated in other Georgia school districts this morning. We take all threats seriously,” the district said.
“Out of an abundance of caution,” the school was placed on lockdown, the district said.
In addition to the large contingent of deputies, dozens of worried parents lined the street across from the school.
By about 12:15 p.m. once the campus had been checked and cleared of danger, some of the law enforcement vehicles were starting to leave. Then by 12:20 p.m., parents were allowed to cross the street to the school grounds.
In a mad rush, they tried to check on their kids.
By about 12:35 p.m., parents with IDs were allowed to pick up their kids after law enforcement agencies had searched and cleared the school.
“First instinct was to let down the blinds and cover the window and hide,” said Student Dashawn Burgess.
Ciera Burgess is a parent. She said, “I was scared.”
When the sheriff’s office is notified of an active shooter threat at a school, all units are instantly sent to the scene.
“I looked out the window and saw a couple of police outside. They were holding ARs,” said Dashawn.
A supervisor at the scene will try to understand the situation and decide if more units are needed.
The SWAT team is dispatched as soon as the call comes in too.
Roundtree said: “That is what they’re trained to do. This all goes back to training. We have this conversation over the summer, during breaks, again we have an active relationship with the board.”
Roundtree says they had a school resource officer already stationed at the school, who was then told about the threat.
Thomas Lomax is another Westside parent. He said, “The way that they showed up in droves was good. It made me feel good to see they had sheriffs and EMS on the scene. God forbid something did actually happen.”
Even if it was just a hoax, this threat is leaving some students on edge.
Dashawn said: “I kinda don’t even want to go back into school.”
WATCH: PARENTS RUSH ONTO WESTSIDE CAMPUS TO CHECK ON KIDS:
Administrators planned for school to continue “with additional safety support” on campus for the remainder of the day.
Counselors were available for students needing support.
Across the state
The statewide prank is similar to one that happened in early October across South Carolina.
Gov. Brian Kemp called Wednesday’s threats a “cruel hoax,“ noting that law enforcement agencies at all levels “immediately sprang into action.”
“They did not hesitate to rush toward potential danger to protect our children,” he said.
“As the father of three daughters, the possibility of an active school shooter is a concern that I ask God to guard against every day,” he said.
“Rest assured, for the criminals who orchestrated these hoaxes, we will go after them with every single resource available,” he said. “The FBI is actively investigating these acts of domestic terrorism, and we will continue to diligently work with them to see these culprits are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Elsewhere in the CSRA
The Columbia County School District didn’t report any problems, but officials were aware of the statewide hoax.
“The Columbia County School District has been made aware of a rash of fake threats being made in school districts across the state. Presently, no direct threats have been made to our schools,” the district said in a statement at 11:40 a.m.
“At this time, Columbia County School District Police are in contact with local and state law enforcement agencies as they continue their investigation into the hoax,” the district said.
Administrators said school operations would continue as normal, but “out of an abundance of caution, local law enforcement are providing increased patrols in and around school campuses.”
The threats also put Burke County schools on alert.
“At approximately 9:15 a.m., Burke 911 was notified of possible active shooter activity in counties across Georgia. Even though Burke County Schools (both public and private) have not received any threats, schools in the county took “additional measures to ensure the safety of our students and staff to include law enforcement presence on campuses,” the Burke County Sheriff’s Office said.
“Our School Resource Officers, Patrol Deputies, and SRT Team were all made aware and we have increased our presence at all of our schools within Burke County,” the agency said. “We will continue to monitor these situations as several of the threats made have been determined to be a hoax. Threats of this kind are and will always be taken seriously.”
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