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Social media posts fuel school security scares

After a second round of bomb threats in as many weeks, police said there is no doubt social media is playing a part in spreading information much more quickly, whether rumor of fact.

Nearly 900 absences — representing about 50 percent of Hamilton High’s student population — were reported Wednesday after rumors and threats circulated on Twitter and Facebook, according to the district.

“There are so many things that are being put out there on social media, and some of the things are just not accurate,” said Hamilton police Sgt. Ed Buns. “Unfortunately, once something gets out there it just spreads and causes a panic.”

Ohio Homeland Security notified the Ohio Department of Education about “a number of bomb threats” across the state on Wednesday.

Students and staff were evacuated at three Cincinnati and three Dayton area schools as well as Edgewood City Schools in Butler County after bomb threats were called in Wednesday at all of the schools.

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“We’re actually coordinating with the Greater Cincinnati Fusion Center, the Fusion Center Network and with the Ohio Department of Education to alert schools throughout the state of these events,” said Ohio Homeland Security spokesman Dustin Fox.

Fusion Centers, according to Fox, share and analyze information.

When asked whether the threats are believed to have been made by an individual or a group, Fox said there was “no way” he could confirm that, but said the department is in contact with local law enforcement agencies.

Ohio School Boards Association director of management services Van Keating said he wasn’t aware of any districts reaching out to the organization regarding threats.

“We do have a consultant that works with schools on this if they want to – a lot of school’s we’ve found like working with local law enforcement agencies,” Keating said.

He said schools across the state needed to have an emergency plan in place and filed with the Ohio Department of Education this school year.

“In these plans, it talks about various types of threats — bomb threats, school shootings, etc. The plans are very broad because they have to address disasters like flooding, power outages. They’re very detailed, comprehensive plans,” he said. “I think schools are much more comfortable in terms of how they deal with them.”

Someone used a digital or computer-altered voice when they called in a threat to Edgewood City Schools on Wednesday morning, according to the Butler County Sheriff’s Office.

The call, which said schools contained explosives, prompted administrators to evacuate Edgewood’s high school, middle and elementary schools along Busenbark Road and Ohio 73 in St. Clair Twp.

The threat was later deemed “not credible,” meaning no explosives were found.

Edgewood’s evacuation followed an earlier unsubstantiated threat at Talawanda High School, according to district spokeswoman Holli Morrish.

A “vague threat” came in at about 6 a.m. via a voicemail message left at the high school, Morrish said.

The report was deemed not credible by the time students arrived at about 7:30 a.m.

“In this particular case, we were fortunate that the threat came in early enough that we could involve law enforcement. We knew that threat was not credible before students came in,” said Talawanda Superintendent Kelly Spivey.

Edgewood Superintendent Russ Fussnecker said the district’s safety plan was put into place as soon as the call was received.

“The staff member who took the call did an incredible job of keeping them on the line as long as possible,” Fussnecker said. As the suspect was talking, Fussnecker said the administration began making decisions for the safety of the students.

“We will always error in the side of caution,” Fussnecker said.

Della McCarty came to Edgewood High School to pickup her son, who is a sophomore. She said she learned about the threat via a text message from another parent.

“Nobody can guarantee your child’s safety 100 percent, not even a parent,” McCarty said.

School administrators throughout Butler County said they were aware of Wednesday’s string of threats and have safety plans in place.

Lauren Boettcher, a spokeswoman for Lakota Local Schools, which received a similar threat two weeks ago, said safety is always Lakota’s top priority, “so we certainly take additional precautions when we hear about threats at other local schools.”

School districts contacted by the Journal-News, including Fairfield and Middletown, declined to discuss specifics about their safety plans.

Rachele McCoy, who has a 13-year-old son who attends Garfield Elementary in the Hamilton school district, said she was concerned about the flurry of threat activity that has gone on the past week.

“As a parent, I am really worried about the safety issues and the communication between the school and parents,” McCoy said.

McCoy said threats are made on Facebook and frequently shared by students. She said her own son didn’t feel safe in class, but she decided to take him to school.

“I don’t want to deprive him of an education,” she said. “But there has to be a way to make our schools safer. But I’m glad they are charging these kids with felonies, and they should do jail time. These aren’t elementary-aged kids, they are high school students and they should know better.”

Orr said Hamilton schools were placed on lockdown for part of the day Wednesday after a social media post Tuesday evening referencing a threat made last week.

“We have been dealing with the growing problem of students making threats toward the school either verbally or online,” Orr said in a statement sent to parents. “Please know that we take these threats seriously. Unfortunately, we dealt with another situation today at Hamilton High School after a student posted a threat on Facebook.”

He added: “The Hamilton PD directed us to go to a lockdown, and we did so district-wide. Thankfully, the police have apprehended the student who posted the threat. Our students and staff are safe. Thank you for your support and understanding as we work through these challenging situations. We will operate on normal hours tomorrow and we look forward to educating your children.”

Apparently, the threats also led several parents to keep their kids out of school on Wednesday.

The post carried on several Twitter accounts and Facebook stated that a student had been making threats about carrying out a shooting at the Freshman School and Hamilton High School.

Sgt. Ed Buns of the Hamilton Police Department and Joni Copas, director of communications for the Hamilton School District, both confirmed that the social media buzz surrounding the shooting threat was a repost of an incident that happened last week.

“This was about the student who was arrested last Thursday for making verbal threats against the school and students,” Copas said. “With all of the bomb threats and things happening in the area it looks as if something old was being put out on social media as just happening, and we are not aware of any new threat.”

Buns said a 16-year-old boy was arrested and has been charged with inducing panic, a second-degree felony, and the teen is being housed in the Juvenile Detention Center. He is scheduled to appear in court Oct. 22.

Staff writers Eric Robinette, Eric Schwartzberg and Lauren Stephenson contributed to this report.

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