One day after the Parkland, Florida, shooting, police were called to the Horry County Education Center after a 12-year-old boy allegedly said, “I hate this [explicit] school and I’m going to shoot it up.”
Police went to the student-focused alternative school again the next day after reports of a 13-year-old boy saying he was going to shoot someone.
Days later, police were called to St. James Intermediate after another 12-year-old boy said he had a gun but didn’t.
And police were called again on March 6 to Ocean Bay Middle after reports that students were allegedly making jokes about joining ISIS and splitting up in the hallways to shoot students.
Dozens of disturbing school incidents have been reported at Horry County Schools since the Parkland school shooting on Valentine’s Day.
From Feb. 15 to March 5, there have been 23 threats made against elementary schools, 28 against middle schools and 24 against high schools, said HSC spokesperson Lisa Bourcier.
Some students have been charged with crimes.
But has there an increase in threats since the Parkland shooting?
“It seems to me that it’s more,” said David Beaty, coordinator of school safety and security for Horry County Schools, adding that he didn’t know for sure whether it was actually an increase from the same time period in previous years.
“I hate to even guess at something like that without having that information in front of me,” Beaty said. “I don’t know that those numbers have ever been pulled before.”
Barry Markovsky, a University of South Carolina sociology professor, said an increase in threats is common after school shootings.
“But at the same time, if you step back and look at it, it’s very rare,” he said.
Thousands of kids are making threats, like the ones reported at HCS, but of those threats, an even tinier proportion actually commit a crime, Markovsky said.
“You see a lot of oversimplified explanations in the media — teens are looking for attention, they’re trying to be disrupting, they’re being stupid because their brains aren’t fully formed yet,” he said.
As a social psychologist, Markovsky looks at broader picture than just the individual involved.
He speculated that the desire to gain an audience along with the gun culture and normalization of violence in the U.S. may contribute to the increase in threats.
“I think that tilts the probabilities a little bit higher that students are going to adopt those kinds of personas, those violent personas,” he said, adding that younger kids may not understand the seriousness of a threat they may have just said as a joke.
Are we prepared?
Beaty said the district is prepared if a student actually carries through on a threat.
“We take school safety very, very seriously and I think our school district, with all the infrastructure we have in place, is one of the most progressive across the state,” he said.
All of the schools, with the exception of a few elementary schools, have armed guards or school resource officers patrolling the grounds.
To get in a school, a staffer on the inside needs to let you in, after which you must hand over your identification.
And if there was an active shooter on campus, each school has a custom plan in place for how to respond, based on the age of the students, the design of the school and a number of other factors.
“There are state guidelines, but the main guidelines we have are set up by each individual school,” said school board Chair Joe DeFeo.
Those plans are updated and changed at each school every year, DeFeo said.
“Each school administration is provided an emergency plan template, and it sets certain standards that they are to incorporate in their specific plans,” Beaty said. “There’s some latitude there [that] they can modify to some degree.”
The base template for each school was introduced around 2007, but the templates are updated and changed each year, Beaty said. Each school practices a number of different responses, such as sheltering in place or evacuating multiple times per year, he said, and each school has a group of administrators who will send out the signal to respond in one way or another depending on the situation, although the schools don’t drill specifically for an active shooter.
"We focus on more than just lockdowns or active shooters," Beaty said. "Our plans are crafted for the purpose of addressing all hazards."
The response to an active shooter would differ depending on the situation, Beaty said. For example, if there was an active shooter inside the school during recess, officials wouldn’t tell kids to come inside to hide.
But regardless of the situation, Beaty said the school would give as much information as possible to the students over the intercom.
"You'd have to tell them to get the point across that they need to do whatever response signal is given out," he said. "We’d obviously give out as much information as we could."
Beaty said the exact nature of schools' security plans can't be released to "maintain operational security and protect the integrity of the steps that may be taken during all phases associated with a critical incident."