Rappahannock News

Inside the schools’ response to police tip that said person with gun planned to harm themselves

- BY BEN PETERS

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 ƒ ’s O†ce, which quickly contacted school o†cials 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 ƒ ’s OfŠce, out of “extreme caution” in light of the shooting of two police o†cers 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 oƒ 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 ƒ Connie Compton did not return several requests for comment about the investigat­ion.

According to Grimsley, an investigat­ion remained underway at the Sheri ƒ ’s O†ce for more than a week a er the incident. She noted that the Sheri ƒ regularly receives tips from suicide hotlines, but this was the Š 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 eƒort, 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 ƒ 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 oƒ 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 eƒorts to meet with students and push informatio­n to parents about how their kids can seek mental health assistance.

 ?? FILE PHOTO BY LUKE CHRISTOPHE­R ?? In order to sweep the high school classrooms, authoritie­s and administra­tors escorted students to the gymnasium for an impromptu assembly about a shooting that happened at Bridgewate­r College the previous day.
FILE PHOTO BY LUKE CHRISTOPHE­R In order to sweep the high school classrooms, authoritie­s and administra­tors escorted students to the gymnasium for an impromptu assembly about a shooting that happened at Bridgewate­r College the previous day.

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