In recent years, news of school shootings have become a frighteningly more regular headline. Across the country and throughout the world communities everywhere have been forced to tune in to the threat and prepare for the possibility that it really could happen anywhere.
Yesterday that reality hit home for students and staff of a Waynesville high school who were evacuated from campus after officials received the second threatening email in one week- authorities have not determined who sent the messages, or if the two threats are connected.
A Tuscola staff member received the threatening email around 9 a.m. Thursday, which prompted the evacuation of 1,000 students and 80 staff members to the Haywood County Fairgrounds.
Within 30-minutes everyone was evacuated and law enforcement officers were at work to clear the school, said Associate Superintendent of Haywood County Schools Dr. Bill Nolte.
“There were no injuries and we’re very thankful for that,” said Nolte.
Classes dismissed at 11 a.m., and campus reopened later that day for normal after-school activities. Law enforcement cleared the campus by noon.
This is the second threat Tuscola High School has received in one week.
“We do not know if they are connected at this time,” Nolte said. “At this time, we do not see a connection.”
Nolte, nor Superintendent Dr. Ann Garrett were able to elaborate on the specific nature of the emails, but rumors swirled among students. One Tuscola freshman said students were speculating that the threat was made by a classmate.
“We were all thinking the same thing,” she said. “That it was a bomb or shooting threat.”
She said some of her classmates panicked.
School district officials will continue working with law enforcement to investigate.
Thursday’s evacuation was a collaborative effort between school officials working with officers from the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, Waynesville Police Department, Asheville Police Department, Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, the N.C. State Highway Patrol and the State Bureau of Investigations.
“We’re highly engaged in the investigation,” Nolte said. “You don’t lock down and evacuate a campus unless it is serious.”
The process was a smooth-sail, but for traffic congestion and hungry students. Due to traffic congestion, it took parents as long as an hour to pick up their children. Snacks were sent to the fairgrounds but didn’t get distributed to all students and staff, so the fairgrounds eventually opened their concession stand.
Parents were notified every step of the way, Nolte said.
“We encouraged the kids to text their parents to let them know what building they were in (at the fairgrounds),” he said.
Each school in the district must update their emergency plans every school year, and copies are distributed to local law enforcement, said Garrett.
The investigation into Thursday’s threat is ongoing.
It is unknown at this time who sent the threat, Nolte said.
“If it is determined that it is one of our people, we will implement discipline actions,” he said. If that’s the case, any discipline action would be confidential since it deals with a student’s file.
Fortunately, no threat materialized Thursday and when the experience was over, some students found a bright side.
“When things like lock downs happen, it seems like we all get closer,” said a freshman student who didn’t want to be named. “We lend out our phones to each other and talk about what’s going on so we can get through it.”
There is no comment from law enforcement at this time.