Inside the schools’ response to police tip that said person with gun planned to harm themselves
Rappahannock County Public Schools administrators acted largly on the y earlier this month to respond a er police received what wound up being a faulty tip of a person, alleging to be a student, contacting a suicide hotline and indicating they had access to a gun and were planning to harm themselves.
It was around 9 a.m. on Feb. 2 when the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was contacted via an online chat by somebody claiming to be a Rappahannock County High School student who planned to hurt themselves, according to Superintedent Dr. Shannon Grimsley.
Shortly a er, the tip was forwarded to Rappahannock County Sheri ’s Oce, which quickly contacted school ocials to notify them of the potential threat. Grimsley was in another building receiving phone calls with updates every 20 minutes throughout the entire episode, she said.
While no threats were ever made to other students or the school, the Rappahannock County Sheri ’s Ofce, out of “extreme caution” in light of the shooting of two police ocers at Bridgewater College that happened the day before, they said, brought in specialized teams from other agencies to investigate the source of the tip, which was believed to not be credible. They worked with information technology specialists to determine if the device the hotline was reached with had pinged o the high school, Grimsley said.
According to the superintendent, authorities later found that a mobile device linked to somebody at the high school — it’s not clear who — sent a vauge tip to the hotline about somebody who was not at the high school who the tipster believed had the weapon and planned to harm themselves. The person who was the subject of the message was found to not be in distress nearly to the extent indicated by the tipster, Grimsley said.
Rappahannock County Sheri Connie Compton did not return several requests for comment about the investigation.
According to Grimsley, an investigation remained underway at the Sheri ’s Oce for more than a week a er the incident. She noted that the Sheri regularly receives tips from suicide hotlines, but this was the rst time one involved the schools.
While the investigation was underway at the high school that day, students remained in small groups and were instructed to remain in their second period classrooms through lunchtime. Law enforcement, which oversaw practically the entire response eort, Grimsley said, planned to call in a K-9 support team as an additional precaution to ensure all areas of the high school were cleared of any threat of a weapon or explosive devices before allowing students and sta to continue their day. According to a news release issued that day, nothing was found during the investigation.
But to sweep the classrooms, authorities and administrators needed an excuse to remove the students who were huddled inside. According to Grimsley, a decision was made very quickly by the school administration to escort students to the gymnasium for an impromptu assembly about the shooting that happened at Bridgewater College the previous day to allow time for authorities to investigate the classrooms.
“The high school administrators pulled that together in about 15 minutes,” she said. “It was the best they could do.”
Administrators had planned to hold an assembly about the shooting days later since there are many Rappahannock alumni who attend, Grimsley said. “It was, you know, an opportunity, I guess,” she said. “The high school administration could talk to students and try to keep the peace a little bit and answer questions about Bridgewater if they had any.”
SUPERINTEDENT DR. SHANNON GRIMSLEY:
“It just really … opened our eyes much more to the need for ensuring our students have the appropriate and available ways to reach out for help.”
Grimsley said many students didn’t know police were sweeping the building during the assembly, but accounts from parents indicate some students were aware something was not right.
The administration would have preferred to bring the students outside instead of holding them inside, but the cold weather that day didn’t permit, Grimsley said. Rumors circulated afterward that the schools had turned o the W-Fi during the investigation, but Grimsley maintained that did not happen.
Last week, the schools held an assembly to debrief students on what happened with the help of mental health professionals and Compton. There, students were taught about ways to help peers in need and how to properly report concerns related to mental health or suicide.
“It just really … opened our eyes much more to the need for ensuring our students have the appropriate and available ways to reach out for help,” Grimsley said. The administration has since made eorts to meet with students and push information to parents about how their kids can seek mental health assistance.