Director of Schools Matt Hixson said one possible negative side effect of these false rumors could be to discourage students from reporting potential safety issues in the future.
“We started catching rumors of students potentially threatening the students who brought the weapon issue last week to the attention of teachers and administrators,” Hixson said. “I’m not sure how it originated, but we started getting reports from staff members who saw these rumors on social media. Obviously if we see or hear anything concerning student safety, we’re going to look at it. (High school supervisor) Wes Smith worked with the school administration at Cherokee to determine where the rumors were initiating and any credibility behind it, and we determined by the end of the day Wednesday there wasn’t any credibility behind it.”
“At this point, I do think it was a hoax”
Hixson added, “We’re still going to be present and attentive to anything occurring today (Thursday) or tomorrow (Friday). At this point, I do think it was a hoax, but anytime you’re talking about any potential harm to students — particularly those who did the right thing and came forward with that information last week — we’re going to take that very seriously. We’re going to error in the side of safety and look into every threat, credible or not.”
The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Detectives Division assisted the school system in identifying the students who made the threats, and they have been suspended, Hixson said.
“I believe they utilized some investigation on social media posts,” Hixson said. “The individuals used their names, or nicknames, that could be tracked down. Shortly after the posts started popping up, the community and parents were making posts to the office. Their motive seems to be that they were harassing those who turned the students (with a gun) last Friday. It appears they were friends or acquaintances of those who were arrested for bringing a weapon to school.”
Although the threat was determined to be a hoax, Hixson said there will be an increased law enforcement presence at Cherokee Friday when the threats of violence were supposed to take place.
Cherokee students arrested with gun
Cherokee went on lockdown for a short time Friday, and two freshmen were arrested after they were allegedly found in possession of an unloaded firearm on campus.
According to an HCSO report, around 12:50 p.m. Deputy Bobby Moffitt was notified of two male students with a gun at the school.
Moffitt reportedly made contact with the students and found a .38 special revolver in a video cassette box in the backpack of one of them.
The gun was not loaded but ammunition was present.
The HCSO said neither student had any plan of action for the use of the firearm, and no students were threatened or harmed.
Both students were transported to the Upper East Tennessee Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Johnson City and face possible expulsion under the school system’s zero tolerance policy.
Hixson said he is awaiting the disposition of their criminal charges before a school punishment is determined.
“Keeping all informants anonymous”
The concern now, even though these supposed threats have been ruled a hoax, is that students will be reluctant in the future to make similar reports to school administrators.
Police and school officials have stated repeatedly that the number one defense against the type of school shooting tragedies that have occurred in other areas is attentive students, school staff, parents and the community willing to report potentially harmful behavior.
“We want and we need people to come forward when they see things,” Hixson said. “We’re obviously not going to be able to put our fingers on every single thing that happens, so we need other eyes and ears, and that includes students and staff. If they feel hampered or threatened to come forward, that’s something we’re going to deal with aggressively.
“We do believe in keeping all informants anonymous, and we strongly believe in what we call whistleblower protection. Anyone who is willing to come forward and put their own self at risk because they’re reporting needs to be protected.”