Last Updated: 8:40 a.m.
Texts that have been coursing through social media locally about an alleged gun threat have led parents to pull their children out of Buddy Taylor Middle School this morning, and the school district to beef up police presence on campus. But a district official said the school is safe, and the sheriff’s office says the texts are a month old and were merely re-posted in the last 24 hours.
“We authenticated who the originator of those texts were, we don’t know if the content is valid,” Mark Strobridge, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s chief spokesman, said just after 8 this morning. “What I do know for sure is that it’s all over a girl. It has nothing to do with any group of people or any belief system.”
As the district sees it, the alleged threats have their source with two students who were “kidding around,” district spokesman Jason Wheeler said this morning, though at least one of the texts seemed to be written by a student claiming to have brought a Glock handgun to school on Monday, with five bullets, then gotten nervous and taken it back home.
Wheeler said one of the student involved in the rumors was met by district officials as the school bus dropped him off this morning. He has been with officials since, and will not be attending classes today. The other student, however, had not been located as of 8 a.m. But officials shortly said the second student, once located, was not an issue, and was not aware he had been involved.
“As far as finding is this other student, we know who this person is, it’s just a matter of getting with his parents and locating him,” Wheeler said. “But we have additional deputies on campus.” Buddy Taylor normally has one school resource deputy on campus. Two additional deputies have been dispatched to the school.
Strobridge described the student currently with law enforcement as the “originator” of the texts. “We do not feel there is a current threat to the students at Buddy Taylor Middle School,” he said. But he couldn’t say whether the gun in question had in fact been brought to school a month ago, as claimed in a text, with five bullets.
At 8:45 a.m., with additional information in hand, Strobdridge specified the sequence of events: “We have identified and spoken to the second person,” he said. “The second person didn’t even know that the first person who did some of these things was even upset with him. Here’s where it gets convoluted and how it goes: several weeks ago, the guy we are speaking to, the originator of some of these words, texted a friend of his, upset about this other kid, who he’s never talked to and never confronted, incidentally. The receiver of those texts apparently took some screen shots of the texts.”
Those texts and images were then manipulated ad re-posted with more threatening words. “Allegedly, somebody else took that off of his social media, added his own words to it and re-posted it as if it was his stuff,” Strobridge said.
That has sent the investigation into a different direction as officials are now seeking to find who was involved in the manipulation of texts, and to what extent. “We are still looking for other students who have kind of perpetrated this farce, because there’s other people out there who took bits and pieces and tied them together that were never done that way, and we are still pursuing that as well,” Strobridge said.
The earlier response left one parent who was pulling his son out of school this morning dissatisfied. The parent, who referred to himself only as Tom, said the school, having known about the issue since yesterday, should have alerted parents and had a larger police presence at the school, especially since the second student has not been located.
“I asked the school about that, they said they didn’t send out information, nobody got phone calls, nobody got emails, the school was going to try to handle it on their own and keep it quiet,” Tom said.
That’s not necessarily the case: social media “threats” or rumors have become an extremely frequent issue across the country, requiring districts to balance common sense and safety with the normal running of a school day: the latest incident points in just such a direction, as there appears to have been much less to the threat than rumored on social media.
“If you cry wolf enough then people start turning out,” Wheeler said, “and I think that’s the fine line that all districts are trying to get a handle on. If this was deemed a credible threat, if any threat was deemed a credible threat, then we’d jump into action, but you can’t put the cart before the horse.” He added: “If we lock the school down over every thing that appears on Swipswap, my God we’d never have a student enter or leave the building?”
The texts in question have been circulating speedily on Swipswap, a Facebook-associated platform, in the past 24 hours. One of the texts reads: “Well on Monday I bring a glock 19 to school and only 5 bullets and hid it in my backpack and was fr gonna shoot him but I thought about it and I was nervous also he was absent so when I went home I put it back.” But even that text was reported second hand.”
One text shows a young boy at what appears to be the Flagler County gun range, firing a rifle. Another shows a black handgun with the words imprinted on top: “good bye everyone at btms.” The same texts, looking as if someone had heavily blanked out certain identifying information in red or blue, have been going around Facebook.
“The picture that’s out there was out there a month ago,”. I don’t know if the claims are true,” Strobridge said.