PARKERSBURG - In the days following the school shootings in Connecticut, local officials say they are being bombarded with hoax threats at area schools.
Schools have been locked down in Wood County, Pleasants County, Wirt County, Belpre and Federal Hocking due to rumors of violence circulating through social media or bomb threats. In every case, no credible threat has yet been found.
"It's not just Wood County and Wood County Schools, people are at a heightened level of concern everywhere," said Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law. "That has both good and bad aspects to it.
"On the positive side, we need to be more aware. We need to be vigilant. We need to correct our mistakes and areas where we've become lax," he said. "The bad thing is, social networks are breeding areas for false information. People need to be very cautious when they see or hear something either directly from someone or from some other source, of spreading the info around without knowing if it's true.
"It appears that is what happened (Monday) night."
Parkersburg South High School opened Tuesday with an increased police presence on campus following an Internet rumor mill that claimed a student had made threats toward the school and other students. Officials at Parkersburg South and the Parkersburg Police Department investigated the allegations when they first surfaced Monday and found no credible evidence any threats had been made. No charges were filed.
But by Monday evening panicked parents were calling the Wood County Sheriff's Department and school officials, pointing to postings on Twitter and Facebook concerning the incident. According to a law enforcement press release Tuesday, a second investigation again found no credible evidence and no charges were filed.
"A very innocent statement got turned into a very ugly statement," Law said.
Deputies with the Wood County Sheriff's Office spoke with the alleged student and determined the misunderstanding. There was no immediate threat, they said.
Belpre went into lockdown Tuesday as a precaution after unconfirmed reports the school was involved in the social media comments, said Larry Lorentz, director of instruction for Belpre City Schools.
"We haven't been able to actually see Belpre linked to that in Parkersburg," he said.
Sue Woodward, assistant superintendent of school services for Wood County Schools, said officials requested the extra police at Parkersburg South on Tuesday morning.
"That was done purposefully to say 'We are taking this seriously,' " she said.
Even so, attendance at Parkersburg South and Parkersburg High was down Tuesday, and students continued to circulate rumors and contact parents alleging threats to the schools. Belpre High School was placed on lockdown Tuesday morning after rumors surrounding Parkersburg South pointed to that school as well. Police patrolled the Belpre High campus but found no evidence of a threat.
Law said a lot of time and effort can be saved if students and parents contact school officials rather than taking their concerns first to social media.
"If they have information they feel is true and accurate, and that they feel is important enough to share with someone, share it with the school, and we will react," Law said. "If we find some sort of threat, we will deal with that."
According to local reports, the West Virginia State Police reported a 16-year-old female student at Wirt County High School allegedly confessed to making the bomb threat Monday that resulted in lockdowns at the schools in Elizabeth during interviews conducted with students. The Wirt County Sheriff's Office is coordinating with the state police on the case.
In Athens County on Tuesday, deputies with the Athens County Sheriff's Office responded to Federal Hocking High School for a "bomb scare alert," officials said. School authorities notified the communications center of the threat and school procedures were implemented, said Sheriff Pat Kelly.
Deputies searched the school and classes resumed, he added. Detectives went to the scene to investigate, along with the Rome Township and Coolville volunteer fire departments.