An unnecessary scare rapidly traveled through Oakdale Junior High School last Tuesday, Sept. 17. For some the fear began Monday night. The cause? A threat. The source? A social media post not made by an OJHS student or even a Merced Unified student, as some rumors indicated.
The mayhem and unnecessary fear was generated by an Oakdale High School student via snapchat. The motive, even more unbelievable than the chaos it created. Stage a fake snapchat post, show mom, and stay home from school Tuesday as a result of parental fear.
A plan which seemed simple enough and temporary (to the naïve) didn’t end with the student’s mom. To the contrary, the mom posted the screen shot to Facebook and fear of a school shooting quickly ensued.
“This is the power of social media,” Superintendent of Schools Marc Malone said. “The high school kid just wanted to create the drama. It wasn’t specific to the junior high. But then once they post it, apparently they had that (Stampede) game Saturday night (in Merced) where there was some drama. So then people see the (photo) posting and they just add their own facts to it.”
It had nothing to do with the Junior High, Malone added.
The initial snapchat posting was of graffiti on a subway tiled bathroom wall simply stating, “tomorrow there will be a school shooting @9:15.” Malone stated he first learned of the photo post on Monday evening, Sept. 16 about 9 p.m. Familiar with all district campuses he paid it little attention as he knew the photograph was not from an Oakdale site.
As the photo went viral and comments to the post ensued, his position had to change. Comments made to the post suggested the shooting was in connection with the Stampede game drama.
“It only created the doubt, when now people started adding their own facts from the weekend and the Merced thing,” Malone said.
He added the youth football game was not associated to the district but involves junior high students as well as a practice field at the junior high.
From a proactive response the OJHS Administration was directed to make a Facebook post stating the incident would be under investigation and not taken lightly.
“If the mom had a brain in her head,” Malone stated candidly through frustration, “she would have looked at the kid and said this is really serious and said I’m going to contact the police and the school district.
“If she would have bothered to vet it and call either the police or call us early on, we could have said where did it come from?” Malone continued, noting that an incident of this nature is never taken lightly by the district, yet they are somewhat common and typically extinguished for falsehood long before, if ever made public.
Malone shared there were issues establishing it as a credible threat. Certain things which did not add up. Once the parent was identified sharing the post on social media, she was contacted Tuesday morning. Once the son was identified and questioned, authorities involved knew there was no serious danger.
“We needed to send the message that we’re okay and that we’re going to be on patrol just out of an abundance of caution because of all of the other stuff that was attached to this original posting,” the Superintendent reported on the police presence throughout the day on Tuesday.
Malone indicated that the student corroborated with two others creating the false post. The photo was found on a Google search, it had zero connection to any of the named school sites, or districts. All three students were given five days of suspension as a result of their actions.
“The most we can do to him is a suspension and a possible recommendation for expulsion. We’re not going to recommend him for expulsion,” Malone said of the district decision. “He has a clean discipline record, he came clean. Unfortunately they are kids and there’s always that fine line between a teachable moment and when you have to drop the hammer.
“I am not afraid to drop the hammer. There’s a time and place for everything,” the Superintendent continued. “The parent to me is the one that showed the most lack of common sense and because she didn’t generate the post she just propagated it, there’s really not a lot we can do.”
As Malone replays the events and the irresponsibility, he acknowledges the fear and anxiety which was caused as a result. He also shares the insight that if indeed there had been a threat which the district felt credible, things would have looked much different.
“There’s two messages that I would want to be sent: they saw the reaction that they saw when we knew it was not a credible threat. If we thought it was a credible threat we would have had multiple agencies respond. If we really thought there was something going on there we would have kept kids home from school district wide,” Malone explained. “The other part and as simple as it may seem, people have to realize you cannot believe everything you see on social media. If there is something that you think puts people in harm’s way, we’re not just talking about harmless gossip. Please don’t call the district about harmless gossip. But if it’s something regarding a school shooting, give us a call. You call us about everything else. You call us about traffic, people blowing through stop signs, kids stepping off the curb … If it’s something that serious give us a call or give PD a call so that then the chances are good we can put your mind at ease. I could’ve put someone’s mind at ease, really really quickly with that one.”
And while the Superintendent may be sure of many things, there is one thing he knows for certain, stating, “We are not immune.”
“I start every day with a prayer, whether people are of faith or not, I am,” he shared openly with visible emotion. “With a prayer that our schools are safe, that our schools are productive and that God keeps evil off our door. I start every day Monday through Friday with that prayer.
“We take everything serious, but even though we take everything serious I can’t guarantee any parent that there’s still something that might not happen. It might. I can control what I can control, but I can’t make that promise.”
Malone continued by sharing he has spent 34 years of his professional career serving the district, calling Oakdale home his entire life and noting students he taught now have children in Oakdale schools.
“They have a reasonable expectation that when they send their kids to school, they’re going to be safe. There’s nothing more important to me than that,” he emphasized. “What this type of stuff does is weaken that. I want to give people a guarantee. I want your kids to be safe, we take it serious. But in the world that we live in, I can’t give you a guarantee.”
Malone concluded, sharing that the student body of OJUSD are instructed and led through various drills how to react and respond during a threat.
“In this scenario there were lots of people that were affected but no one actually got hurt. This kid could be expelled, we’re not going to expel him but it could happen,” Malone confided. “You can’t make false allegations. If you do law enforcement can be involved and we can try to press charges and we can seek compensation. This wasn’t a little bump in the road. This was a major disruption that shook people.”
He also said it should provide a bit of a wake up call.
“The message has got to be sent and it can’t just be sent to kids,” he emphasized, “it’s got to be sent to adults. Be very careful with what you propagate on every form of social media. Be mindful and realize it could have a big effect. Demonstrate some common sense.”