On the drive home from school, my son nonchalantly mentioned he heard about a plan to “shoot up the school” on a specific date. It was mentioned at the lunch table by one of his friends who heard it on the school bus.
Generally, this “game of telephone,” he-said-she-said, lunchroom gossip would not even register with me, and I’d let it pass. But this was different. I told my son we needed to call the police.
My 14-year-old son freaked out because he didn’t want to get his friend in trouble and didn’t think it was a credible threat. Ignoring what I heard or not calling the police was not an option. I told my son we’d continue our discussion when his dad came home.
The discussion with my husband went as anticipated: yes, we would call the police, but we also wanted to hear what was said directly from the friend who heard the conversation on the school bus. My son gave us her phone number, and I put the phone on speaker.
“I just wanted to know what you heard on the bus,” I said to my son’s friend.
“Oh, about the school shooting on (date)?” she asked.
She confirmed what my son said, including the date. “Have you told your parents?” I asked the friend. She hadn’t mentioned it to her parents, and I told her that if she didn’t tell her mom, I would.
Then we called the police.
There’s no “what to do when your kid tells you there’s a school shooting rumor” so I didn’t know what to say or do. Is this worthy of 911 or should I call a local number? I opted to call our town police department. I was immediately referred to the county sheriff’s office.
I started to explain the reason for my call. The sheriff’s office transferred me to the police department in the town in which my son attends high school. Three police departments later, I recounted the conversation with my son and the confirmation from the friend from whom he heard the rumor.
The police were aware of the threat and had been investigating the rumor for weeks. I was told the investigation wielded no credible information and the school would have an increased police presence on the day noted in the rumor. The dispatcher offered to connect me with the school resource officer for more information, and she assured me we did the right thing by calling police to report the rumor.
My son was mortified — mortified I called his friend and mortified I talked to the police. He was afraid his classmates would know he told us, and he thought we overreacted when we called the police. My son’s anxiety over our response lasted for about 24 hours until he realized we did what we had to do.
Making my son uncomfortable is never anything I like to do, but in this case, I wouldn’t change anything.
Our kids should be comfortable enough to come to us when they hear threats like these. And it’s our responsibility to report this kind of thing to the authorities. It’s unfortunate we live at a time when school shootings are something we have to discuss at the dinner table and that kids have to practice active shooter drills “just in case.”
Update: On the day of the rumored shooting, I drove my son to school. Many parents opted to keep their kids home, but I felt comfortable sending him after my conversation with the police department. Police had a strong presence outside the school that morning, with three police cars in the parking lot. And while my son’s school day was uneventful, there WAS an incident involving a gun and a student at another local school.