Authorities investigating social media shooting threat at 2 Virginia middle schools
In the wake of the shooting massacre in Parkland, Florida, local school districts are dealing with reported threats of violence, and two middle schools in Northern Virginia are now among them.
A social media post threatening shootings at T. Benton Gayle Middle School and Thornburg Middle School has Stafford and Spotsylvania County sheriff's deputies investigating the source, it was announced Sunday.
T. Benton Gayle Middle School is in Fredericksburg in Stafford County and Thornburg Middle School is in Spotsylvania Courthouse in Spotsylvania County.
The post has parents and students on edge.
“[Students are] pretty scared about it. All of my friends are messaging me asking if I'm scared,” Alhanati said.
He told his mother, Anysia Alhanati, about the apparent threat after hearing about it from a classmate.
“Prior to that, we didn't know where it came from. And then we got the message from the school,” Anysia Alhanati said.
The post quickly spread online on Facebook, Instagram and Stafford Talk, according to officials. In the post, of which ABC7 has obtained a copy, a hand is holding a gun and references having a shooting at both schools.
“I just heard that these kids were threatening to shoot them up,” Caitlin Henderson said. “It scares me. It makes me not want to send my sister to school.”
Said John Lewis, “The kid gotta go to school and you've gotta go to work. So basically all you can do is pray and leave it in the hands of the Lord and let the officers do their job."
Even if the threat is a hoax, the timing of such a threat – just days after the shooting that left 17 dead at a high school in Florida – is upsetting to many parents.
“It's not something to joke about. It really isn't. This is serious,” Anysia Alhanati said.
Because of the President's Day holiday, Gayle students return to campus Tuesday. Due to a snow make-up day, Thornburg students go back to school Monday.
Both schools will have extra deputies on their campuses as a precaution to the threat. Each school district said they were treating the situation "very seriously."
Statement from Stafford County Public Schools spokesperson Sherrie Johnson:
Stafford County Public Schools is aware of a social media threat made against T. Benton Gayle Middle School. The Administration received information of a threatening message posted on social media over the weekend. The Stafford County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the incident. As a precaution, deputies will provide extra security at the school. SCPS has notified parents via robocall, email, Facebook and Twitter to keep them informed. Please be assured the administration at T. Benton Gayle Middle School will continue to investigate the source of the threat as well as to maintain vigilance to provide for student safety. We are taking this matter very seriously. The safety of students and staff is of the utmost importance for Stafford County Public Schools.
Statement from Spotsylvania County Public Schools spokesperson René P. Daniels:
This weekend, School administration was made aware of a threatening social media post made about Thornburg Middle and another Middle school in Stafford County. Spotsylvania County Public Schools takes these situations very seriously. School administration immediately contacted the Sheriff’s Office and an investigation was launched to determine the individual responsible and nature of this post. Since this post included both Spotsylvania and Stafford County schools, Spotsylvania and Stafford Sheriff’s Offices are working together jointly to investigate who made the social media post.
At this time the investigation is ongoing. As a precaution, there will be additional Sheriff's Office Deputies on the Thornburg Middle School campus tomorrow.
We are encouraging anyone who has information about who may have originally made the social media post, to contact the Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Office’s Crime Solvers tip line at 540.582.5822.
UPDATE: Statement from Spotsylvania County Public Schools spokesperson René P. Daniels on Monday, Feb. 19 at 5 p.m. after conclusion of school day:
This is an update on the investigation regarding the threatening social media post made about Thornburg Middle and another Middle school in Stafford County. Spotsylvania County Public Schools takes these situations very seriously. Since this post included both Spotsylvania and Stafford County schools, Spotsylvania and Stafford Sheriff’s Offices are continuing to work together jointly to investigate who made the social media post.
Today ran smoothly at Thornburg Middle School and there were no issues. At this time the investigation is ongoing to determine if this is a credible threat. As a precaution, there will be additional Sheriff's Office Deputies on campus tomorrow.
Should additional information in the case become available, we will provide an update. We are encouraging individuals with information on who may have originally made the social media post, to please contact the Sheriff’s Office’s Crime Solvers tip line at 540.582.5822.