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Swain schools put on lockdown after social media threat

No threats found and students released for day
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Before students even began class at Swain County High School this morning, Thursday, Feb. 22, law enforcement agents were on site.

A threat on Facebook was brought to the attention of SCHS Principal Mark Sale that he felt was credible enough to go ahead and lockdown the high school around 7:10 a.m.

When lockdown was initiated, students were already arriving, and buses were running. Following procedure, the other schools were also put on a soft lockdown.

“The threat on social media said they were ‘going to go to SHS and start shooting up the school.’ We take that very serious. We’re not going to take any chances on it, we’re going to react to all of those threats,” said Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran.

Law enforcement was on the scene within five minutes, and within an hour’s time, all the schools were cleared, Cochran said.

No threats were found at the high school or at any other school, he said.

With some high school students still on buses at other schools, the system also initiated a search of high school students on buses.

“We decided the buses might be a concern, and we went to a full lockdown at all the other schools,” said Toby Burrell, Swain County Schools information officer. “We were certain after [the student search] everything was good.”

All the students on the buses at the Middle School and elementary schools were then brought inside the schools.

“We felt it was in the best interest of the students to have them inside the schools,” Burrell said.

At the high school, students who were already in the school were escorted off campus for safety, and others were turned away from the campus.

The NC State Bureau of Investigations is assisting in the investigation, particularly in the search to find the source of the social media post. The investigation is ongoing.

Approximately 30-40 officers assisted in the response, said the sheriff. Assisting agencies included Bryson City Police Department, NC Highway Patrol, NC Wildlife, Swain County EMS & Rescue and agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Shortly after the searches were completed, parents were notified students would be released for the day and schools would be closed.

“When we knew everybody was safe and there was no threat, we initiated running our busses and sent our Connect-Ed (message) to let parents know what was going on,” Burrell said. “That was a decision made with the Superintendent (Janet Clapsaddle). She felt it was at the best interest of our students and teachers and families.”

Burrell commended the responding agencies.

“The Swain County Sheriff’s Department and all the agencies who helped, from Cherokee Police to Bryson City Police to Hwy Patrol, were phenomenal,” Burrell said. “We had deputies coming in who were off duty who had worked last night to help. It was a phenomenal response by a group of professional people; they were wonderful.”

He also commended the faculty, staff and students.

“I think our faculty and staff at the high school did a tremendous job,” he said. “The kids who were there already and or kids in outlying areas, we never heard an iota of complaint. That speaks volumes of the community we have and the kids that are in it.”

In an unrelated incident on the road behind the middle school, a bus driver alerted law enforcement of a car parked with two guys in it who looked suspicious. Law enforcement responded. One individual had a backpack with a gun and drugs in it, and he was apprehended and charged. The individual had no connection with the school.

Smoky Mountain Times

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