Officials: Threat reported at school unfounded

Published 12:50 am Wednesday, February 21, 2018


NATCHEZ — Officials say a threat reported at Natchez High School was unfounded and that the clamor early Tuesday morning was caused in part by a distraught parent.

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten said the disturbance began when one student threatened another through a group message with several Natchez High School students.

Email newsletter signup

The initial threat made no mention of guns, Patten said, but students began exaggerating the potential risk.

“The word ‘gun’ was never mentioned,” Patten said. “But when one student begins telling a story to another and another, (the story) changes.”

By Tuesday morning, many students had received messages saying the student planned to bring a gun on campus, Patten said.

A parent arrived on campus and pulled her child out of class without checking him out, Patten said, and began saying there was “going to be” an active shooter on campus.

The sheriff’s office was called to the high school at approximately 8:45 a.m. in response to the threat.

More than a dozen police vehicles from the sheriff’s office, Mississippi Highway Patrol and Natchez Police Department arrived on the scene to assess the situation.

Patten said he preferred to “err on the side of caution,” and shut down the school for a full-search.

The threat was determined to be false after approximately an hour and a half of lockdown, and no gun was found on campus.

No students were arrested as a result of the threat, Patten said, and school officials would not say whether or not the students involved would be disciplined.

The time between the initial threat and the all-clear signal, however, was fraught with fear for parents.

Dozens of parents, grandparents and family members waited across Seargent S. Prentiss Drive, some having left their jobs to ensure their student was safe.

“I didn’t even clock out,” said Angela Cruel, who works at the Glenburnie house. “My son texted me and told me there was an active shooter and I just left. I was praying the whole way over here, not just for my son, but for all the children.”

Less than a week had passed since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 students and staff were killed, and Cruel said the fear of a similar situation was on every parent’s mind.

“That’s what scared me the most — this just happened,” Cruel said. “The fear that just happened in Florida — that could happen here.”

Other parents could not make contact with their children, such as Tiffiney Belton, whose daughter is a senior at Natchez High.

Belton texted her daughter, Taliyah Jane, but had received no response.

“She’s probably scared,” Belton said. “She has kidney problems and this could shake her up. She’s probably shaking.”

Parents and onlookers were detained at the edge of campus; many cars lined the road on both sides of the highway.  Many huddled together in groups, talking amongst themselves and hazarding guesses over what the situation might be.

Other parents were more laconic, walking alone on the roadside and clutching their cell phones.

“We need to know what’s happening,” Belton said.

At approximately 9:30 a.m., the Natchez-Adams School District made an automated call to all parents.

The call said the threat was all clear, and that no weapons had been found at the scene.

Another quarter-hour passed, however, before parents were able to pick up their children.

Superintendent Fred Butcher said though he was primarily just relieved that the incident was unfounded, he learned much from the day.

“We actually just had an active shooter drill not too long ago,” Butcher said. “There was a lot we learned, but this was more of a real-time situation, and we see we have a lot to do.”

Butcher met late Tuesday afternoon with members of the sheriff’s office and police department to discuss the incident and find ways in which both the district and law enforcement could have reacted differently.

Today, Butcher said he plans to meet with members of his staff with a similar mission in mind: Find the weak spots in the district’s response and strengthen them.

“One of the things we found was communication,” Butcher said. “We need to be able to communicate with each other and … inform parents quicker.”

Overall, however, Butcher said he is just glad the students and staff of Natchez High School were not in danger.

“That’s my first concern, you know,” Butcher said. “There’s a lot we learned today, but I’m just thankful everyone is safe.”