Rumor fuel panic at Knox Central

*Knox School webKnox County students got to have an extra-long Thanksgiving vacation, due to the threat of violence by two high school students.

The first incident came Thursday, Nov. 20, when a student who had been reportedly subjected to repeated bullying made what was perceived as a threatening statement in the school cafeteria. That same evening Knox Central High School Principal Tim Melton sent out a bulk email to teachers. The email simply stated that there had been a false social media post on the events that had taken place.

Immediately, people began searching the Internet for the post the principal had referred to. From there, the rumors began to fly. By the time Friday morning rolled around, the story had ballooned into there being a hit list and ultimate shooting at the school.

Police say they found no proof of a hit list, nor any bomb threat, only a statement made by the student that was perceived as a threat to another student who overheard the comment.

Questions were raised Friday as to why the school district had not sent out an official statement Thursday night. Frank Shelton, school communications director, addressed the question, “Not only do threats disrupt the school day, but they result in countless hours of work to determine their validity and for law enforcement to conduct further investigation that could lead to potential criminal charges. The Knox County Public Schools will always provide parents and staff with information, including information to discourage rumors, but will use caution and best judgment if it could jeopardize the investigation that is taking place. Safety is number one priority, and if the safety of our students is threated, we will quickly and promptly communicate with parents and guardians that information. On Thursday night that was not the case.”

Although the police determined through their investigation that no direct threat had been made, panic had already begun to spread Thursday evening throughout Friday morning, prompting students to call their parents to come pick them up and take them home.

Then shortly before noon Monday, a second threat ensued when a student sent out a text message that there was a bomb at the school. Once learning of the threat, the school evacuated the building. Within minutes, police officers arrived at the school, and the students were sent home. This was followed by a thorough search of the school by Kentucky State Police and a bomb-sniffing dog.

During a Tuesday evening press conference, Barbourville Police Detective Steve Owens said Monday’s threat appeared to be a spin-off from the first incident where the student took the rumors of a bomb threat and passed it on as an actual threat. The student, he said, was charged with terroristic threatening second degree and is being detained until she sees a judge.

“Regardless of the intentions and the situation we deal with on these types of threats, it’s something that we take very seriously,” he said.

Sheriff Mike Smith agreed with Owens and addressed the students’ parents, saying, “School officials, as well as first responders, are taking these threats very seriously, and we will respond in a quick manner and investigate them thoroughly. It’s our priority, as well as the school’s, to make sure that your children are safe in school.”

Shelton said the missed school days will have to be made up at the end of the school year.