Law enforcement heightens schools’ security in response to false threat

Published 2:26 pm Thursday, February 22, 2018

A social media threat prompted law enforcement to increase security at Beaufort County Schools on Thursday, though the threat did not originate locally.

Wednesday night, Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps sent out a message to parents refuting the threat and assuring parents law enforcement was informed and responding.

“We have been notified by a social media threat that has been circulated many times over the last few hours,” Phipps said in the message. “I have been assured that it is a post that has been shared across the country in recent days. … Please be aware that this is a proactive response and not an indication of any immediate threat.”

Thursday, schools had an increased presence of Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputies, in addition to the seven schools that have fulltime Student Resource Officers, according to Chief Deputy Charlie Rose.

“We have more of a presence than we normally would, just to ease everybody’s tension,” Rose said. “With everything on people minds about what happened in Florida, we wanted to have an actual visual presence to let parents know that we do take every threat seriously.”

Rose said the threat had been shared nationwide through social media — both Pitt and Craven county experienced the same threat — and had been brought down to the local level through the sharing of the post. Unlike more credible threats, this one was not aimed at a particular school, but referred to a general school system.

Deputies were assigned to all Beaufort County Schools campuses Thursday; Rose said the additional coverage would likely be discontinued Friday, though roving patrols would continue.

“It’s just an overabundance of caution,” Rose said.

“Please know that our school personnel and law enforcement partners take each of these posts seriously and will continue to work with any information we receive, being vigilant and responsible,” Phipps assured parents in his message.

Rose said that if someone leveled a threat a school, charges range from disorderly conduct to felony charges for a more direct threat, such as a direct threat of violence or bomb threat. He said two years ago, a Southside student was charged with disorderly conduct after a social media post caused approximately 25 percent of the student body’s absence the following day.

Phipps also told parents that if a threat is leveled at any Beaufort County School by a student, he would take definitive action.

“I also want to assure you that I will apply the most extreme school-related discipline possible against any student who engages in such activity and still seek the most substantial criminal charges as well,” Phipps said in his message.