Untrue ‘mass murder’ rumors on social media empty seats at high school

GLADWIN, MI — More than 17 percent of students at a Mid-Michigan high school didn’t attend class Friday because an alleged threat between two students turned into a social media frenzy about potential mass murder, according to the district superintendent.

“It just shows you how willing people are to believe things that they read on social media and treat it is as fact,” said Gladwin Community Schools Superintendent Rick Seebeck. “If you’re worried or scared or wondering, don’t believe what they’re saying on Facebook, pick up the phone and call me at 989-429-0610.”

The incident began Thursday, Sept. 28, when a student reported they overheard a schoolmate talking about wanting to fight or hurt or kill another student because of a dispute they were having, Seebeck said.

Administrators then talked with the students involved, and police went to the accused student’s home to chat with the parents and see if the threat was credible and if weapons were accessible, Seebeck said.

Officers from the Gladwin Police Department found the student had no access to weapons and that there was no evidence of a threat made on social media.

The student was disciplined within the district for allegedly making a threat, and it was determined there was no threat to the student body, the superintendent said.

That was that.

“If we started notifying parents of every issue that’s not a credible threat, that’s all we’d do all day,” Seebeck said of his decision to not tell parents.

Later on in the day, word of the incident played across Snapchat and Facebook like a game of telephone.

“Parents and kids started running with it and it morphed into all of these erroneous stories, that the kid was going to bomb the school, that the kid was going to shoot up the school,” Seebeck said.

“Right now, our city police, they’re actively asking the Facebook community to please come forward with any factual information they can use to support these outlandish claims, because if in fact any of it is true, we need to know about it.”

Seebeck said some of the online rumors even roped in nearby Beaverton Rural Schools as a potential target.

As rumors began swirling on Facebook, Gladwin High School Principal Dave Beyer sent out a message to parents telling them it was safe for their kids to come to school Friday.

The message fell on deaf ears.

Seebeck estimated that of the high school’s roughly 600 students, more than 100 of them were absent Friday. He said that’s nearly six times their average absences on any given day.

Should a final count find the school was under 75 percent attendance, the district will have to make the day up.

“If you add it all up, it’s tens of thousands of dollars that could’ve been spent on programing for kids but instead got spent because of social media hysterics,” Seebeck said of the cost of a make-up day.

As a parent of children who attend Gladwin Community Schools and attended Friday, Seebeck said he understands the concerns voiced online.

“As of today, as of right now, we have no reason to believe that there is any issue that puts the kids safety at risk anymore than any other day,” he said. “If that changes, if any info comes to use that changes that, we’ll let the parents in the district know immediately.

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