That important reminder comes from Tom Patton, the public information officer for the Kingsport Police Department, in light of recent events this week. More specifically, the lockdown at Dobyns-Bennett High School on Wednesday, where photos and videos that were circulated on social media caused concern and panic among some students and parents.
“We are aware of a great deal of information that is circulating on social media. Anything that is determined to be potentially credible will be fully investigated,” Patton said. “We have absolutely no control over unconfirmed rumors that people choose to repeat or information that people choose to post and continue to repost on social media.
“That’s why it’s important for people to glean their information from reliable, credible, and professional sources, and not some random, unvetted poster on social media.”
The lockdown took place at D-B around lunchtime on Wednesday. It was in response to a 911 call alleging two people, possibly in possession of a firearm, were seen walking in the Highland neighborhood.
The day before, a threatening note was found on campus, and about an hour before the lockdown, a school fire alarm went off. A dryer in the Career Technical Education building had caught fire.
When the lockdown was announced, and with tensions already on edge, several students panicked and ran from the school. Ultimately, following an extensive investigation, the KPD could not verify the existence of the alleged two armed individuals, nor did any incidents actually take place on the D-B campus, Patton said.
On Thursday, another “concerning” message hinting about a “round two” at D-B was making the rounds on social media.
“This is exactly the kind of misinformation that I am talking about,” Patton said in reference to this message. “It is utterly irresponsible and serves no purpose but to instill fear and panic throughout the community.”
All news releases from the KPD are posted to the department’s blog (kingsportpdblog.com) and social media pages (Facebook and Twitter). Citizens and media are encouraged to subscribe to all three, Patton said.
“The Kingsport Police Department has always, and will continue to be, completely transparent and provide as much information to the public as possible, as quickly as possible, with the understanding that public safety and the integrity of an ongoing investigation will always trump the need to satisfy curiosity,” Patton said.
SCHOOL SYSTEM RESPONSE
Kingsport City Schools Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse, in an emailed letter and automated phone call to parents Wednesday afternoon, wrote that the KPD will continue to maintain an increased presence at D-B for the near future.
“I realize that these events have caused fear in our students and families, which is heightened due to what is often misinformation being shared across social media,” Moorehouse wrote. “I encourage you to rely on the information from the Kingsport Police Department and Kingsport City Schools, understanding that what you may find on social media may or may not be accurate and has not been verified.”
Assistant Superintendent Andy True noted, “We take all reports of concern very seriously, individually and with law enforcement investigating all situations that are serious and involve student safety,” True said. “We always try to be as transparent as possible. There’s been things posted on social media that we know not to be true. There was no active shooter.”
Sullivan County Director of Schools David Cox, who sent a letter to parents of county students Thursday, said he was at a regional superintendents meeting on Wednesday when false social media claims of gunshots at D-B made the rounds. The county system announced Thursday morning that as a precaution additional law enforcement was present at county schools, with a particular focus on the four high schools.
“There’s been what I would call social media chatter, kids saying I heard this or heard that,” Cox said, noting that anyone with information about a concern should share that information with the appropriate law enforcement or school official, and not “take to social media.”
Education writer Rick Wagner contributed to this story
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
- A threatening note was discovered at Dobyns-Bennett High School shortly before noon on Tuesday.
- Shortly after 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the fire alarm went off across the DB campus. The Kingsport Fire Department responded at 10:53 a.m. and it turned out to be a dryer fire in the DB Career Technical Education building.
- The fire was extinguished by 11:21 a.m.
- Central dispatch then received a call at 12:05 p.m. about two alleged armed people in Highland near the DB campus.
- At 12:15 p.m. the campus goes on lockdown.
- At 12:53 p.m. Kingsport City Schools emails and calls families of students about the situation. A text message went out at 1:01 p.m.
- At 1 p.m. the Kingsport Police Department released a preliminary statement that officers were in the area of the school investigating unconfirmed issues of concern.
- At 2:08 p.m., the police department issued a follow-up statement disclosing what had actually transpired.
- Kingsport City Schools emails families at 2:13 p.m. about an update to the situation. A text message was sent three minutes later.
Source: Kingsport City Schools, Kingsport Fire Department, Kingsport Police Department