Salem-Keizer School District officials along with the FBI and local law enforcement agencies say a recent uptick in hoax threats have disrupted local schools and caused unnecessary fear.
"Recently, we have experienced an increase in school threats, rumors of threats, and the spread of false information, which has been disrupting our learning environments and creating fear in the community," said a joint statement issued Friday afternoon by the district, FBI, Marion County Sheriff's Office, Salem and Keizer police departments, Safe Oregon and Liberty House.
The statement did not detail any specific hoaxes or provide data about how many the district has seen recently. District spokeswoman Emily Hicks said she did not immediately have numbers available.
The statement comes several weeks after a lockdown at McKay High School triggered by a student reporting they saw a classmate with a gun. Police responded and never located a weapon, but school administrators told Salem Reporter they didn't believe the report was false.
During the lockdown, senior Grace Caldwell, who serves as the student advisor to the school board, said misinformation shared on social media led her and many of her classmates to believe there was a shooting at the school, with some people sharing video from inside the building that had been edited to add sounds of gunshots.
Hicks said during that lockdown, false rumors also spread online about a possible connection or student with a weapon at South Salem High School. That prompted the district to email parents to let them know the information was false "to help dispel some of the panic/misinformation impacting them," Hicks said in an email.
"These threats—often issued via text message or posted on social media—are taken very seriously. Our law enforcement partners investigate every tip to ensure the safety of our students, staff and community. Hoax threats can result in both arrest by law enforcement and/or suspension or expulsion by the school district. Hoax threats are not a joke, and they can have devastating consequences—both for the public and for those who post them," the statement said.
"In addition to the individual consequences a person may face, these threats have a serious impact on our community. They divert district resources from providing support for students and disrupt the learning environment for hundreds of students. Law enforcement resources are diverted from investigating other crimes, and they cost taxpayers a lot of money. The threats can also cause severe emotional distress to students, school staff and families," the statement said.
The district and other agencies urged people to report threats to local law enforcement or to SafeOregon by calling or sending a text to 844-472-3367, or using the SafeOregon app.