Whitwell High Principal: "There was never a gunman"
By Matt Barbour, Weekend Anchor/Reporter - bio | email
MARION COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -- Parents in Marion County say they want answers after Whitwell High School was put on lockdown Thursday. They were told it was only a drill, but rumors quickly spread through the community a student possibly brought a gun on campus.
On Wednesday, a student at Whitwell High made a threat toward the school and fellow students, saying he was contemplating "shooting the place up."
When he arrived at school Thursday morning, he was immediately searched, along with his locker. No weapon was found and the boy was sent home with his parents on suspension and faces a disciplinary hearing.
But rumors started and mixed messages left both parents and students scared and confused.
The chaos started when a student texted a teacher at Whitwell High, saying they heard there could be a gun on campus.
"I was in my second period class when they told, they started sending out the code over the intercom to lock down the school," says ninth grader Dusten Johnson. Johnson says it wasn't clear what was going on.
"I didn't know. They wouldn't tell anybody anything. My teacher didn't even know what was going on," he says. He immediately texted his mom, who had already gotten a phone call from another parent.
"She said apparently someone is in the school with a gun," says Amanda Way, Dusten's mom. "What do you, how do you react to that?"
"My friend had a child that was texting her mom, 'I'm scared. We're locked down. He's supposed to be in here.' They didn't know what was going on. The school wasn't being honest with them. They were letting them make up their own stories and panic themselves," says parent Annette L'Huillier.
Both Way and L'Huillier say they called and went up to the school only to find more confusion. "The school told us it was a simple drill. In my opinion it was a serious situation, a serious threat that they then turned into a drill," says L'Huillier.
"It was just a day in which it was chaotic and there was no need for it," says Principal Josh Holtcamp.
Holtcamp is adamant that everything was under control. "Protocol was followed and I'm very happy with the staff, the way they responded in some means. It was very difficult because the information sent from another school was not accurate," he says.
With the high, middle and elementary school on lockdown, the middle school sent out an alert to parents, while the high school did not. "They said they did it to not panic the parents. They panicked us worse by giving us no information at all," says L'Huillier.
"If children were ever in danger at this school, I would be the first one to call and let them know. There was never a gun here. There was never a gunman. It was all blown out of proportion," says Holtcamp. "Don't rely on social media. Don't rely on text message."
"I think if they were at home, unaware of the situation and their kid started texting them, telling them something like that was going on, they would probably look at it a little different," says Way.
Those parents say a simple phone call could have made things better for them.
Principal Holtcamp says he hopes to use this situation as a learning lesson. He says he held an assembly with students Thursday to talk about what happened but by then most students were already home.
We spoke with school Superintendent Mark Griffith who says after next week's fall break, the school system will review it's protocol with all principals, on when to send out warning messages to parents.