By Tony Kukulich
Bob Sofaly and Delayna Early contributed to this story
A massive law enforcement response converged on Beaufort High School Wednesday morning after a call to the Beaufort Police Department (BPD) reported an active shooter on the school’s campus.
“Our law enforcement, our fire department, our EMS did exactly what they always train to do,” said City of Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray during a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “We’ve seen incidents around the country where maybe there wasn’t a rapid response. That was not the case in Beaufort this morning.
The report of the shooting was later determined to be fake.
“I’ll go ahead and call it a hoax,” said City of Beaufort Police Chief Dale McDorman.
Beaufort High was not the only target of a school-shooting hoax Wednesday morning. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division issued a statement saying that it was investigating a number of similar threats made to schools across the state. Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner later said 22 schools had received calls reporting fictitious attacks.
“These calls have been something that have bothered law enforcement agencies throughout the country for a while now,” said Tanner.
McDorman said the call pertaining to Beaufort High School was received at 9:27 a.m. on his agency’s non-emergency number. The caller was transferred to the Sheriff’s Office, and officers were dispatched to the school.
“We immediately had officers responding,” McDorman said. “We notified the Sheriff’s Office. I will tell you that within three minutes, we had officers in that school.”
A school resource officer from the BPD was on school campus at the time the call was made. McDorman said the officer was contacted and reported no obvious disturbance but immediately initiated the security lockdown.
Junior Leyah Murphy was in class when the lockdown was initiated and said students in her classroom “huddled in a corner” waiting for something to happen. She noted the frustration that she and other students felt as no information was shared with them during the incident.
“Then we were told to hold our hands up, and they secured the classroom,” Murphy said as she wiped tears from her eyes. “After about an hour and half they let us out and put us on school buses and brought us here. It was all pretty scary.”
Hundreds of parents gathered outside the school anxious for information about the incident. Once the campus was secured by law enforcement, students were bused from the school to the football stadium where the reunification with their parents got underway. Parents were required to complete a form naming their student and provide photo identification before their child was allowed to leave the school. The process was slow. Some parents expressed frustration with the process, but most parents waited their turn patiently.
“I think the school handled it as best as they knew how, in a cool and cool and collected manner,” said Melissa Bliley as she waited for her freshman son. “My son texted me as soon as they went on lockdown, so I knew right away what was going on. Thankfully, his teacher let them have their phones out to be able to communicate with parents or loved ones.”
BCSD Superintendent Frank Rodriguez thanked law enforcement and other first-responder agencies for the overwhelming response to the perceived threat at the school, and praised the actions of the school’s staff and students.
“Our students responded incredibly well, as well,” Rodriguez said. “They listened. They heard their teachers, and they did the kinds of things that they’re asked to do in order to remain safe during situations like this.”
The FBI, ATF, Port Royal Police Department, South Carolina Highway Patrol, and a U.S. military police K9 unit were part of the response. McDorman noted that about 80 officers from the various agencies responded to the scene and as many as 40 officers were in the conducting searches and clearing classrooms.
He added, “I literally saw officers running toward the front door before their cars had stopped.”
The investigation into the incident will be handled jointly by the Sheriff’s Office, the Beaufort Police Department and the FBI. Tanner advised reporters that information related to the incident like tapes of 9-1-1 calls will not immediately be made public.
“We’re not releasing any of that,” Tanner said. “All of it will be turned over to the FBI.”
Classes will resume Thursday at Beaufort High School. Counselors will be on campus Thursday to provide support for any students impacted by the stress of the incident,