Three school systems closed on April 18 not due to weather or illness but because of a threat made against a Knox County school.
According to a press release from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, on April 17 at 11:30 p.m., Knox County 911 Dispatch received a call reporting a possible shooting threat at a Knox County school. The caller, who identified himself with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), gave 911 a Flat Lick address in connection to the threat.
The Knox County Sheriff’s Office immediately began an investigation and dispatched deputies Mikey Ashurst and Andrew Lawson to the Flat Lick address. Deputies were unable to locate the exact address.
Through the investigation, officials discovered the telephone number used by the caller was generated in the Los Angeles area but does not appear to be connected to the LAPD. The number provided by the caller connected to the Flat Lick residence was also fictitious. At this time, the threat appears to be generated by either a computer or iPhone through an application (app) to conceal the identity and location of the perpetrator.
Throughout the night, the Sheriff’s Office maintained contact with surrounding school systems, ensuring student safety was the top priority. Although the investigation found the threats to be false, as a safety precaution, Knox County Public Schools, Barbourville Independent Schools and KCEOC Head Start made the collective decision to close April 18.
Schools are stressing that students were never in danger and the decision to close was “to ensure that our families receive accurate information and to help us discourage further rumors and threats.”
Once the school closures were made public, parents and community members expressed mixed responses to the decision. While some were happy with the precaution from the schools, others questioned why it took officials so long to make the decision to cancel school and why schools closed at all if the threat was found to be false.
“Student safety is top priority. In a case like this, we know that there will be rumors and speculation. Since the threat came in during the overnight hours, that left us with very little time to address it with parents,” responded Shelton. “Please know that Knox County Public Schools and the Barbourville Independent Schools will not tolerate threats of any nature and will make decisions and clearly communicate with parents if a valid threat is found.”
Although students did not go to school, they also did not receive an instructional day pass. Instead, KCPS and Barbourville Ind. implemented Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) days, meaning students spent the day learning from home rather than in the classroom. This ensured student safety, allowed students to continue to learn vital content and kept closing dates for both school districts from being pushed back again.
“Although the sheriff’s department’s initial investigation determined the threat to be unsubstantiated, after discussing the issue with our district leaders, we choose to utilize an NTI day allowing (off campus) instruction to continue as usual for our students. We decided using an NTI day would give our district leadership and law enforcement an opportunity to inform our parents of the situation while allowing the investigation to continue,” said Barbourville Independent Superintendent L. Kay Dixon.
Deputies are continuing to follow-up on leads and search for anyone connected with the threat.
“We consider any threat against a school or students very serious and will commit whatever resources needed to successfully investigate and prosecute the perpetrator if possible,” concluded Sheriff Smith.