Grand Strand school districts scouring social media for potential threats

Joey Kandil, 18, a recent graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, places a ring around a candle on one of 17 crosses after a candlelight vigil for victims of Wednesday’s shooting at the school, in Parkland, Fla.
Joey Kandil, 18, a recent graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, places a ring around a candle on one of 17 crosses after a candlelight vigil for victims of Wednesday’s shooting at the school, in Parkland, Fla. AP

Even before the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Florida that killed 17, school officials in Horry and Georgetown counties were monitoring social media and asking parents and students to tell police or school officials if they see anything that could be a threat to schools.

Just this week someone allegedly made a threat against Andrews High School, but the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office investigated and found the threat was not credible. Someone also made a threat Friday against Socastee High School on Instagram, Horry County School officials said, adding that police are investigating.

“Sometimes (a threat) is unfounded, sometimes it is misconstrued,” said Georgetown County School District director of safety and risk development Alan Walters. “But we cannot afford to be less than cautious when it comes to matters of safety. We can never predict when like (Wednesday’s tragedy) will happen, we can only hope to be prepared for it.”

On Valentine’s Day, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz allegedly shot and killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

According to reports by the Miami Herald, the man was previously expelled and had undergone mental health treatment. Also, he allegedly posted online his desire “to be a professional school shooter.”

Less than 24 hours later, a Spartanburg County teen was charged with disturbing schools after a post on Snapchat was captioned “Round 2 of Florida tomorrow.” In the post, he was wearing a mask and holding an apparent assault rifle.

Horry County Schools spokesperson Lisa Bourcier said the district and school offices have received phone calls in the wake of Wednesday’s tragedy. While some asked about district policy in an active shooter situation, others wanted to offer thanks for keeping students and personnel safe.

“Most of those calls were to thank (school officials) for doing a good job keeping students safe,” said Horry County Schools spokesperson Lisa Bourcier. “But situations like this do open up the opportunity for conversations about school safety, and our practices and procedures in the event such a crisis occurs.”

Even in moments of relative calm, school safety officials remain in a state of readiness should a crisis suddenly present itself.

In the event of an emergency situation occurring near one of its schools, HCS advises its “shelter in place” protocol be used. Should a situation be “a direct or serious threat to students, staff or visitors,” that campus will be placed in “lockdown” mode.

Schools in Georgetown County use different terms, helping parents and others get a full grasp of the situation at hand.

The district goes into “lockout” mode when a threat is nearby, but not on school grounds. Under such protocol, doors are secured with students and staff ordered to remain indoors.

A different form of order is in play during a school “lockdown.”

Students are asked to move out of sight, remain silent and keep all doors closed. Teachers and administrators are to lock interior doors, move out of sight, turn off all lights and make sure students are accounted for.

“One time upon returning from a trip out of town, I walked into Carvers Bay High School while an active shooter drill was taking place,” said Georgetown County spokesperson Ray White. “All I saw was 10 to 12 officers, and what seemed like no one else inside the school.

“Everyone was inside the school — students, teachers and other staff. You truly could not see anyone.”

Armed security guards are stationed in all public schools in Horry County. Georgetown County schools has armed student resource officers at each campus.

In addition, students now regularly take part in active shooter drills, accompanying routine fire and tornado drills.

School security and staff are not the only ones asked to remain attentive. Often, students and teachers are first to notice changes in student behavior.

On Friday the Georgetown County School District officials received a tip about a social media post “relating to a potential safety hazard” at Andrews High School.

In the Spartanburg County incident, it was a parent who alerted authorities to the threat.

“Many times, threats go viral rather quickly thanks to students,” said Horry County Schools director of safety and security David Beaty. “Students are the biggest users of social media and typically are first to discover instances like this. When we learn of these, we notify public safety immediately.”

Neither local school district employs to scour through social media. So when asked, all are prompted to follow simple guidance — “If you see something, say something.”

“Our schools emphasize to principals, personnel and students alike this is their community as well, we encourage stewardship and vigilance,” Bourcier said. “Everyone has a role in the safety of everyone else.”

Joe L. Hughes II: 843-444-1702, @JoeLHughesII