Apparently an alleged threat that caused the lockdown of all Whitley County schools Thursday afternoon was a communication about a game that a 14-year-old Campbell County, Tennessee, boy was playing with his 28-year-old brother in Whitley County.
Whitley County Sheriff Colan Harrell said the alleged threat that lead to the lockdown was vague and the teenager claims the communication, which was sent to the wrong number, was misrepresented and was supposed to have said "at school" and not "attack school."
Instead of going to his brother though, the communication instead went to a Whitley County parent, who reported it to school authorities. School authorities then showed the message to a school resource officer, Whitley County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Lennon, who recommended that all county schools be placed on lockdown until the matter was resolved.
So far no charges have been filed in connection with the incident.
Harrell said that Lennon, who is leading the investigation, will present the evidence to prosecutors but he doesn’t know if prosecutors will decide to file any charges under the circumstances.
Harrell said the matter was handled properly because you have to take every threat seriously.
"You have to react. You have to take everything seriously. You are dealing with the safety of students, faculty and staff," Harrell noted.
How it all began
About 2:30 p.m. Thursday, the parent of a Whitley County student received a text via i-Message from an unknown sender making a threat directed toward an unspecified school, according to a press release from the Whitley County school district.
After the decision to place the schools in lock down was made, law enforcement officers from the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department, Kentucky State Police, Williamsburg Police Department and the Corbin Police Department then responded to Whitley County schools to assist in the lock down along with Whitley County Emergency Management officials, according to the sheriff’s department.
The initial investigation revealed that the threatening message was sent from the 14-year-old boy and was supposedly intended for his 28-year-old brother in Whitley County, according to the release.
State police were able to track down the mother of the Campbell County teen, who explained what had happened.
"Police officers were then dispatched to both residences to make contact and verify that there was indeed no threat toward the Whitley County school system," the release noted.
Whitley County Superintendent Scott Paul said it appears that the threatening message was just sent to the wrong telephone number, and was not connected to the Whitley County school system.
"We couldn’t take any chances with it that is why we went into lock down," Paul explained early Thursday evening.
Paul said that an i-Message can apparently be sent to a telephone through either another i-device or through an e-mail, which is what happened in this particular case.
About 4:25 p.m., school officials lifted the lock down allowing students to be dismissed from Whitley County schools.
Deputy Superintendent Paula Trickett said it took about another 15 minutes to get buses loaded so that they could run their normal routes.
Paul noted that when the lock down began, there were already several students on the buses outside Whitley County Middle School, including several from nearby elementary schools.
Those students were taken off the buses and into the Whitley County Middle School gym. Teachers from Whitley Central schools were then sent to the middle school to supervise the elementary school students in the gymnasium until the lock down was lifted.
"It is our policy to take every threat seriously until it can be verified otherwise, as the safety of our students is our number one priority. We have procedures in place to deal with situations like this and I’d like to compliment our staff and students for implementing those procedures flawlessly today," Paul noted.
"The Whitley County school system would like to thank the Kentucky State Police, the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department, the Williamsburg Police Department, the Corbin Police Department and Whitley County Department of Emergency Services."
Officials noted that there were no actual acts of violence apparently committed as a result of the alleged threats.
Williamsburg takes precautions
Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird said his department was notified shortly before 3 p.m. about the threat even though it didn’t directly involve Williamsburg Independent School.
Bird said Williamsburg Independent was in the process of dismissing students at the time so police responded to the school out of an abundance of caution and maintained a high visibility presence while school buses were loading and parents were picking up children.
Bird said that Williamsburg school was then placed on lockdown as a preventive measure for after school activities with no one being allowed to enter the building.
Bird said the Williamsburg lockdown ended about 4:25 p.m.
In addition to securing the Williamsburg Independent School, Williamsburg police also assisted in helping to secure various Whitley County schools.
Corbin Independent Schools Board of Education Chair Kim Croley said Corbin officials were aware of the situation but the schools were not placed on lock down.