Authorities across South Carolina responded to several schools Wednesday after receiving false reports of active shooters at schools.
The threats started coming in along the southeastern part of the Palmetto State, moved up the coast, then inland toward the capital, before reaching local districts at around 11 a.m. That's when Channel 9 learned these were statewide school shooting prank calls that law enforcement from York, Chester and Lancaster counties were monitoring.
The Lancaster County Sheriff's Office said it responded to South Middle School and Brooklyn Springs Elementary School after false reports of incidents. Deputies cleared the campuses building-by-building and found no shooter or anyone with injuries at the schools. The sheriff's office confirmed that the students were safe.
"Of course, we had an SRO, and once the information came into the sheriff's office, we immediately went into a lockdown. They went into a situation where law enforcement started responding," said Bryan Vaughn with Lancaster County Schools.
A TikTok challenge is to blame for the hoax, authorities said.
"I guess there's no better word to call it than a TikTok challenge that went out and people are doing it," said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.
Patrick Kelly is with the Palmetto State Teachers Association and has a child that attends one of the schools that was threatened.
He is worried that threats from social media challenges won't stop until lawmakers step in.
"A platform like TikTok either needs to get its house in order or Congress needs to shut the house down," Kelly said.
Kelly argues that parents of young TikTok users should take action before somebody gets hurt.
"Last I checked in most families, the person paying the bill for the internet access and the cellphone is not the student," Kelly said.
Ja'Layah Knox told Channel 9′s Tina Terry that she was in her classroom at South Middle School when deputies started responding to the call.
"We all just heard police sirens and we were like, 'What's going on?'" Knox said. "And they came in with guns and stuff."
The Chester County Sheriff's Office said it also received calls claiming there was an active shooter at Chester County Schools. Officials said they believed the calls were a hoax and increased the law enforcement presence at schools in the county out of an abundance of caution.
The district was also advised to put all locations on a secure lockout, deputies said.
Wednesday afternoon, the York County Sheriff's Office tweeted that it was monitoring a statewide hoax of prank calls about shootings at local schools. Authorities said it is aware of one school in York County that received a similarly false report.
"We take these hoaxes very seriously and several law enforcement agencies are working together to find the culprit of this hoax," the tweet said. "Our deputies and SROs work diligently to ensure the safety and security of our students daily."
At Chesterfield County Schools, a district official told Channel 9 that it had received a few fake calls.
While it was a hoax, dozens of parents took the threat seriously, rushing to pick up their children from school.
"They said they (were) scared, they (were) ready to go home," grandparent Joann Robinson said.
A Lancaster County school official estimated about 50% of students at the schools that received a fake call went home early because of the incident.
ABC affiliate WPDE also reported a false shooting at several schools in Myrtle Beach Wednesday morning. They said officers responded to the schools and determined the call was a hoax.
According to WPDE, other active shooter hoaxes also took place at schools in Charleston County and Richland County.
Officials said the calls are part of a growing trend called "swatting."
"My goal is to find out who this person is and get that person charged," Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile said.
Statement from South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson on the false reports:
"Active shooter situations are taken extremely serious by law enforcement. False claims aren't a joke and prosecutors across the state will not treat them as jokes. I am disgusted by the recent numerous reports of false active shooter situations at South Carolina schools."
Full statement from the Federal Bureau of Investigation:
"The FBI is aware of the numerous swatting incidents wherein a report of an active shooter at a school is made. Similar incidents have occurred recently across the country. The FBI takes swatting very seriously because it puts innocent people at risk. While we have no information to indicate a specific and credible threat, we will continue to work with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to gather, share, and act upon threat information as it comes to our attention. We urge the public to remain vigilant, and report any and all suspicious activity and/or individuals to law enforcement immediately."
Statement from SLED:
"The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is aware of school threats across South Carolina. SLED is evaluating the credibility of these threats. While at this time the threats are believed to be a hoax, SLED encourages each jurisdiction to take any and all threats seriously. SLED is actively working with our state and federal law enforcement partners. If you have any information about these threats, please call local law enforcement."
This is a developing story. Check back with wsoctv.com for updates.
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