LATEST: High School In Beaufort County Under Lockdown Because Of Report Of Weapon
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Thousands of South Carolina students, teachers, and staff were sent into lockdown Wednesday as law enforcement responded to reports of school shootings in more than a dozen counties across the state.
In the end, there were no confirmed shots fired or injuries, with many sheriffs across South Carolina using the same word to describe what happened: hoax.
One of them, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, said it stemmed from social media.
“I guess no better word to say than a TikTok challenge that went out,” Lott said during a news conference near Blythewood High School, which was among the schools that went into lockdown.
In total, fake shooting calls were reported in at least 15 districts in South Carolina on Wednesday, including the following counties:
Law enforcement agencies said they were working together and evaluating the credibility of these threats.
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said, at this point, it believes these threats are hoaxes, and the FBI said similar incidents have occurred recently in other parts of the country.
Gov. Henry McMaster said SLED Chief Mark Keel told him the messages in the threats have all roughly been the same, and they believe these calls may have come from another country.
“There’s no excuse for that kind of conduct,” McMaster told reporters during an event in the Upstate. “People are trying to get their children educated and live their lives and have successful days, and to have something like this thrown into it is unnecessary, just ridiculous, and it’s a crime.”
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said he was “disgusted” by the false reports of school shootings across the state, adding in a statement:
“Active shooter situations are taken extremely serious by law enforcement. False claims aren’t a joke and prosecutors across the state will not treat them as jokes.”
Patrick Kelly’s daughter was among the students at one of those schools Wednesday morning in the Midlands, where he also teaches, though he was not on campus at the time.
“I’m still shaking several hours later, after talking to my 14-year-old on the phone as she was in a panicked situation as law enforcement secured her building,” he said. “My colleagues have been shaken today. One of my colleagues ended up running from the building to the school’s football stadium — which is the safe, secure location at the direction of local law enforcement — carrying a child who was on crutches. I don’t even know how to process that.”
Kelly, who also works for the state’s largest educators’ organization, Palmetto State Teachers Association, said Wednesday’s events reinforce that school safety must be a priority for South Carolinians and the state’s leaders.
“This is not a one-day event,” he said. “You know, this was a hoax today, but the trauma inflicted on students, educators, and families — thousands of them from the coast to the mountains in South Carolina — that trauma is real.”
Given the number of similar incidents reported in other parts of the country recently, Kelly said some action to promote school safety might have to come from Congress.
At the state level, he said the South Carolina General Assembly could work to deter what happened Wednesday in the future by increasing the penalties for people who make these types of threats against schools.
“This is nonsense,” he said. “It has real consequences for real people, and it’s time for us to address it as a real problem and prioritize it over all the other things that we’ve been chasing our tails over.”
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