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Social media fans flames after vague threat at Beaver Local

CALCUTTA — A vague threat fueled by misinformation spread on social media resulted in the Beaver Local school district sending out an automated message to parents on Monday letting them know everything was fine and that school was still in session.

Superintendent Eric Lowe felt compelled to send out the all-call message after a woman posted on social media there were 20 police cruisers in the parking lot and the school complex was in shutdown mode. Neither was true, but it resulted in a visit from a local television station.

“There was really nothing to it, but all of the rumors made it bigger,” Lowe said.

The social media rumors at Beaver Local began after last Thursday, when officials learned a female high school student shoved a female classmate. One of the girls was not in school on Friday but she sent the other a vague threat on social media about what would happen the next time they crossed paths. The alleged threat did not mention a weapon or any other specifics.

Beaver Local’s school resource officer was notified on Friday, and the officer’s boss, St. Clair Township Police Chief Brian McKenzie, said they interviewed the two girls, who gave contradicting statements.

“If there was a threat it was a vague threat. There was no date or time … I’m not even sure there was a threat because there’s nothing to substantiate the claim,” he said.

McKenzie, who is a Beaver Local school board member, said his department continues to look into the incident.

Lowe said the situation was being handled by officials and the police department, which assigned two additional officers to the school complex on Monday. The two extra officers were a far cry from 20 police cruisers as alleged in a social media post by a local woman.

“At no time was there a threat to the school. The whole thing is just ludicrous,” he said.

News of the threat spread on social media over the weekend and began morphing into something more sinister, resulting in some parents keeping their children home from school on Monday. “There was a slightly higher absenteeism than on a normal day,” said Lowe, who decided to send out the automated all-call message to prevent the social media misinformation from causing further panic.

“You can’t take things like this lightly today, unfortunately, but people don’t think about the ramifications of what they post on social media,” he said.

McKenzie agreed, saying irresponsible behavior on social media serves only to fan the flames of public panic in situations like this. “If you don’t have the facts don’t put anything out there,” he said.

tgiambroni@mojonews.com

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