LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Friday’s false report of an active shooter at South Fort Myers didn’t lead to the worst fears of school violence, but it did merit a strong law enforcement response.
Plenty of extra work for a situation that was not real: A police report detailing the incident notes how an unidentified caller stated a male subject entered "classroom 218," and fired an AR-15, supposedly injuring 20 people.
A school resource officer is quick to point out in the report, "the school [does] not have a room by that number."
Three deputies performed a sweep of the campus, confirming there was no active shooter. All students were safe and accounted for.
MORE | Read the police report [PDF]
This led to Lee County Schools sending a text around 1 p.m. that day: “All our schools are safe. There is no threat to students. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the threat as part of a nationwide hoax.”
This also prompted the search of numerous other schools, district-wide, which would have come at the end of the day, with a 1:30 p.m. dismissal time for high schools.
“They get the opportunity to deploy and it becomes a training exercise and what they did wrong and they can do better,” said David Thomas, a retired police officer and professor of forensic science with Florida Gulf Court University. “Every time this happens, even if there is not a real situation, this gives them the opportunity to check their readiness. ”
Victoria Baker, a clinical mental health counselor with VBTherapy.net in Southwest Florida, also noted how younger people have grown up where school violence is just part of the culture.
“It's unfortunately common and it's become a drill in school,” said Baker, hours after the hoax report surfaced at South Fort Myers. Unfortunately, it's been publicized to the point where I think a lot of kids view (school violence) as a viable option to get their needs met or to get the attention that they need. And it is very disturbing as a clinician and someone who's working with these kids every day to see how normalized it has become. ”
Thomas also answered back to the circumstances for people who may think school violence, or even the threat of it, is part of a new normal.
“If this is at your child’s school, the new normal goes out the window and your focus changes,” said Thomas. “Parents need to be on the lookout. I’ve said this a thousand times, they need to become snoops. They need to look in backpacks, they need to have access to phones or tablets or computers where they have an idea what is going on with the kids. In the old days, Mom would go through your room and search and now you can hide it on your computer. You have to be involved in this digital age.”
Being involved and truly present in a young person’s life is where Baker encourages people to start.
“Ask them how they're doing but, also, especially if you have younger children and seeing what they're looking at on their phone,” said Baker. “Are they getting news alerts? Are they getting school shooting warnings? I can't imagine being in the school and hearing that or even a different school and thinking ‘that could be me or that could be my friend’. Not being afraid to ask those hard questions. How are you dealing with it? Does this kind of thing concern you and how can we make you feel safe?"