Concerns over “social media rumors” about a possible shooting threat at San Marcos High School had sheriff’s deputies posted on campus Tuesday, but investigators subsequently determined there was no specific threat targeting the school.
Security also was increased at a Point Loma charter school in San Diego on Tuesday after school officials found graffiti in a bathroom that contained some kind of threat.
The threats come less than a week after a 19-year-old opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 and wounding several others.
San Marcos Unified School District Superintendent Melissa Hunt sent an email to parents Monday night saying school officials had been alerted to the rumors and were taking them seriously. She posted the same information on the school’s Facebook site.
In a follow-up message posted Tuesday morning, she said the incident was investigated and there was “no evidence of a credible threat.”
“While we believe there is no threat, sheriff’s deputies will be posted at San Marcos High School. You may also notice a more visible presence of officers around other sites out of an abundance of caution,” she wrote.
Many students from San Marcos High School were absent Tuesday following the rumored threats, San Marcos High School Principal Adam Dawson said. Attendance Tuesday was around 60 percent, he said, but is normally 95 percent to 99 percent.
Sheriff’s officials said a rumor that circulated via Snapchat on Monday included “images and wording related to a recent arrest in South Carolina regarding a school shooting threat.”
The rumors originated with a photo posted on the social media site Snapchat, showing a boy in a ski mask, with his face blurred and a gun in hand and the text “Round 2 of Florida tomorrow” printed over the image, district spokeswoman Anna Lucia Roybal said.
Dawson said the school received reports of the image at around 7:30 p.m. Monday night from parents whose children saw it on social media. School officials worked with law enforcement throughout the night to track down the source of the image, and alert families to the issue.
On the district’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, parents debated whether to send their children to school, and asked whether a local student had reposted the threat, and whether it specifically mentioned San Marcos High School.
Although the image was ultimately traced to an incident in another state, some parents worried that it could have been used by a San Marcos student to signal a threat to a local campus. Many said they planned to keep their children home until they had more details on the possible danger.
Dawson said the school prepared for conversations with students Tuesday, and said he also appeared on television broadcasts to reassure students and parents.
“I let them know that we would have additional officers on campus, and we would do everything possible to keep them safe,” he said. “And if they had additional concerns, they could process those concerns with a social worker or counselor.”
Dawson said that officials take potential threats seriously in light of events such as the mass shooting in Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last week. But social media rumors also create potential for false alarms and a disturbance to daily education.
“It’s obviously disruptive and causes greater anxiety than is needed,” he said. “The efficiency of social media proves that rumors can now spread at ridiculous rates. For some of us, this is a new norm, but we appreciated and wanted our students and community members, if they see something, to say something….But also making sure law enforcement is involved as soon as possible before the rumors spiral on social media.
There was no specific threat targeting San Marcos High School, sheriff’s Sgt. Daniel Deese said in a statement. But an increased law enforcement presence in San Marcos was planned anyway.
San Diego police officers were to be assigned to the High Tech High Media Arts campus on Farragut Road near Rosecrans Street all day, said police Officer Billy Hernandez.
A woman who answered the phone at the campus said a “graffiti threat” was found at one of the High Tech High schools and police were notified. She didn’t provide any more details.
According to CBS News 8, the school sent an email to parents that said “graffiti containing a threat of action” was written on a wall in a girls’ bathroom at one of the schools.
The letter said the school would be open with a “police presence on campus.”
Efforts to reach officials with High Tech High by phone and email were unsuccessful.
Earlier this school year, a student at Poway High School texted friends that “there would be a shooting at the school” and posted an image of the conversation on social media, though authorities investigated the claim and ultimately said the threat was unfounded.
Roughly two weeks after that threat, near the end of October of last year, students at Meadowbrook Middle School in Poway were found on consecutive days to be carrying “hit lists’” containing the names of classmates and faculty at the school.
City News Service contributed to this report.