WESTERLY — Police and school administrators said they found no evidence of a credible threat after investigating reports of a shooting threat suposedly made via social media on Tuesday.
Westerly Police Chief Richard Silva said that students had told school administrators and staff members that a fellow student had made “a threat of violence” through a social media account. The department’s school resource officer, Patrick Ruisi, who is in the school full-time, was notified, and Silva said the police immediately investigated.
“At this time, we have determined that there is no evidence to support that a credible threat was made and no evidence there was ever a threat of any kind to students,” Silva said. “We have determined that there is nothing criminal involved and the incident has been turned back to the school to be handled internally as a student matter.”
Police did not comment on the nature of the alleged threat.
Westerly Middle School Principal Paula Fusco said that because there was no emergency the automated phone alert system was not used. However, parents were notified through school websites, as well as on Facebook and in a letter emailed to all parents and guardians.
The letter itself indicated that the school had taken action to address the issue and that there was no evidence of any plan for violence.
Fusco said that the school would continue to handle the matter internally. “We immediately assessed the situation and followed all procedures and protocols — everyone was safe, there was no threat,” she said.
Administrators said in the letter that misinformation was quickly spreading, and Silva said he was aware that inaccurate information had been posted on Facebook. Both the police and school officials acknowledged that anxiety about school shootings, combined with the misinformation, likely aggravated the scare.
Another factor was that the schools were operating on a half-day schedule, so more parents were picking up their children. “Many students took it upon themselves to outreach parents with their concerns,” the letter said. “As the misinformation was passed among students in school and adults in the community, the rumor grew in size and scope.”
Both Silva and Fusco said that parents and students are encouraged to continue to speak up if they have any safety concerns. Silva noted that an early response is essential in defusing an active situation, and that the incident on Wednesday could help to prevent problems in the future.
“‘See Something, Say Something’ is a cornerstone of our school culture designed to empower students to help them problem solve issues with peers and enhance the sense of belonging and security buildingwide,” the district said in a statement.