AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Dozens of first responders and law enforcement responded to a shooting threat at Westside High School around 11 a.m. on Wednesday. The incident turned out to be a hoax, one of several that were phoned into school districts across Georgia.
Parents NewsChannel 6 spoke to said they were not happy with how the situation was handled, and said the only initial information they received was from their students who were on lockdown inside the school.
However, at around 11:20 a.m., a statement was sent out to Westside High School parents from Richmond County School Systems that reads:
“Dear Westside High School Families,
In an effort to keep you informed, please be aware of an incident that occurred at our school this morning. Our students and staff are safe. A potential threat against the school was called in to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. The call used the same message sent in threats determined to be unsubstantiated in other Georgia school districts this morning. We take all threats seriously. Out of an abundance of caution, the school is on lockdown status while law enforcement agencies provide a full response. Additional information will be provided after the law enforcement response is complete. “
An additional statement was sent out to all Richmond County School System parents at noon relaying the same information, and stating that the call was made indicating that an active shooter is on school campuses.
A final statement was sent to Westside parents from RCSS at around 12:45 p.m. stating:
“Dear Westside High School Families,
Our students and staff are safe. Law enforcement agencies have searched and cleared the school for students to return to classes. School will continue with additional safety support on the campus for the remainder of the school day. Our students and staff are in the process of returning to classrooms. Once all students and staff are in place, lunch will be provided and we will resume the regular bell schedule. School counselors are available for students needing support. Parents desiring to pick up children can drive to the front entrance of the school and follow the directions of the school resource officers.”
Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree and the Richmond County Board of Education’s Police Chief Mantrell Wilson held a press conference shortly after the lockdown was lifted to address parents’ concerns.
“We understand this is a very sensitive subject,” Roundtree said. “So our parents, I want to rest and assure you that this was complete cooperation with all involved including all EMA services, the Board of Education and of course Richmond County Sheriff’s office. And the training that we do, the protocols and the relationships in which we have together, resolved the situation without any injury.”
The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office received a call just before 11 o’clock Wednesday morning that said there was an active shooter and five injured people at Westside High School.
When word of the threat started to get out, dozens of parents showed up outside the school.
“I saw how many cars are here, ambulance, fire trucks, bomb squad,” said Angela Mallard, a Westside parent. “I saw somebody in an ATF jacket. It’s a hoax, that’s what they’re saying now, but I didn’t get anything from the school or a call, all this came from my daughter.”
Parents said they are unsatisfied with the school system’s lack of communication about the incident, and told us they found out most of the information about the lockdown from their students.
“I don’t think it’s fair, I think we should know what’s going on, if our students are calling us in a panic, and now we’re all up here, I think we’re owed an explanation and I don’t think we should be sitting around waiting for one,” one parent said.
“They dismiss everything, they don’t take anything seriously,” said another.
After waiting outside, parents said they were pulled aside by school board officials and told it was a hoax, with no further information.
Even though the lockdown was lifted, and the school system said the school was safe, many parents decided to pull their kids out of school for the day.
When asked at the press conference about the lack of communication from the school board and law enforcement, Sheriff Roundtree said that ensuring the safety of the students is the first priority of the county.
“Any time you involve children in the nature of a school shooting, people always feel like no time or notification was granted, but our primary focus is the safety of the faculty and staff and the students,” he said.
Sheriff Roundtree also said that Richmond County, along with the FBI and GBI, are investigating to determine where the threat call came from.