Exactly one week after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., the Dodge City Police Department (DCPD) and officials from USD 443 increased the usual security at Dodge City High School. The increase was the result of a rumor shared with police Wednesday that high school students were planning a hoax shooting at a Dodge City grade school. Two officers were on patrol at the school; normally there is just one School Resource Officer (SRO) in the building.
Chief of Police Craig Mellecker said a parent from the district alerted police of the possible threat after hearing it from her child.
"We immediately investigated the threat," Mellecker said. "There were two officers assigned to investigate and they spent multiple hours and interview more than 20 students and faculty from the high school."
Mellecker said, through the investigation, the DCPD was able to determine the threat was purely "rumor, innuendo, assumption."
The chief said the threat started out as a comment that was misunderstood and taken out of context.
"It just keep going and going and turned into a really bad rumor," he said. "There was no specific threat made."
He added that while the rumor was focused on area grade schools, there was no link identified to a definite location.
USD 443 released a statement Thursday assuring the community that the safety of students is a top priority. The district also said all USD 443 school have comprehensive safety plans in place to help avoid tragedies.
"It’s not unusual for incidents such as these to cause others to make threats or for rumors to spread; however, we take every rumor or concern very seriously and investigate them with the help of local law enforcement. None of the recent rumors some of you may have heard were ignored, but neither were they found to have any substance," the statement read. "Both law enforcement and school administrators are satisfied that the issues have been looked into fully and feel that having children in school, where they have the support of their classmates, teachers, and staff, is in their best interests."
Mellecker seconded the district's thoughts and commented on his department's reaction to any potential threat.
"We have to take every threat seriously," he said. "Our response, as it was Wednesday, would be swift and immediate. Even if the threat was a hoax we'd have no way of knowing that and someone could get seriously injured."
Mellecker said he doesn't believe students in Dodge City would seriously contemplate staging a hoax shooting. He noted the possible trauma even a rumored event could cause in the area and said the heightened awareness and concern in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting may have played a role in the claims. In fact, reports of potential shootings have been called in to law enforcement across the county and in communities neighboring Dodge City. USD 438 Skyline Schools in Pratt warned parents that the district went into a lockdown because of a threat at nearby Kiowa County Schools in Greensburg Friday afternoon. The threat was determined to be false; Skyline did not recieve a direct threat.
USD 443 urged parents to talk to their children about the tragedy in Connecticut and suggested precautions like limiting children’s media viewing and online access to coverage of the shooting.
"Don’t allow the television or internet 24-hour news cycle to consume your child’s attention. If you do watch news coverage of these events, watch briefly then turn the television off to talk with your child about what happened, listen to their questions, and assure them that they are safe."
The district also aimed to reinforce the idea of schools as a safe place in the minds of parents and students.
"As tragic as the event in Connecticut is, schools are, without question, one of the safest places for children. Your child’s school has safety procedures in place, and all of the adults at school are devoted to making sure children remain safe at school. We also have a strong partnership with local law enforcement officials, who place great priority on keeping our children and our schools safe."
Parents and community members can sign up for emergency notifications via e-mail or text messaging on the districts web site at www.usd443.org by clicking on "community."