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Threat against high school a hoax, officials say

Some 1,000 students checked out as news spread

POSTED: January 28, 2013 7:50 p.m.

Officials determined Monday that a threat made against Flowery Branch High School was a hoax, but not before some 1,000 students were checked out of class after hearing about the message that morning.

The message, sent over the weekend via the photo sharing site InstaGram, mentioned "shooting" but did not name a person, Hall County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Kiley Sargent said. The message was brought to the attention of school officials Monday as classes began.

Student Jonathan Quintanilla said he learned of the threat Sunday evening.

"I went on the page and saw the comments," he said. "I knew the people who were commenting."

Hall County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the school, but given the vague threat they did not recommend a lockdown, Hall County Schools spokesman Gordon Higgins said. They investigated along with the GBI and the cooperation of the school, and Monday night they notified Superintendent Will Schofield that the students were never in danger.

Schofield, discussing the issue at Monday night’s regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting, said about 1,000 students were checked out of school during the day.

The school went into a "gray lockdown" that involved "a lot of adults out in the hall securing all the outdoor entrances," Schofield said. Georgia State Patrol troopers also assisted in traffic control.

By 10:30 a.m., Principal Mark Coleman announced to the school what had happened.

"But it was orderly and the vast majority of our parents were very supportive," Schofield said. "Dr.Coleman and his staff and the sheriff’s (office) did a great job."

Kelly Massaro, whose daughter is a freshman, said she learned of the situation at approximately 9 a.m. after she was called by another mom.

Massaro, who works in Gainesville, said another mother volunteered to check out about five children for parents who were not able to go to the school immediately.

After faxing the required documents to have someone else check her child out, her daughter was released.

"It scared a lot of people," including her daughter, Massaro said. "It scared me to death. Even more so because of the shooting at (Sandy Hook) elementary school.

"Also, having a high schooler, I know the drama that goes on with them," she said.

Karen Dupree, whose son is a senior, learned of the incident after a friend called her husband. She then texted her son to see if he needed to be checked out.

"I was concerned if they were going to be escorted to their vehicles," Dupree said.

Dupree said she felt the school system "handled it the best they could."

Schofield told the school board he fears Monday’s incident is a sign of the times.

"I think it’s becoming fairly clear that, in this day and age of Web 2.0 and Internet activity, that we’re into a new era," he said.

"While it does not appear that our students were in harm’s way today, the disruption to our campus and community is immeasurable," Schofield and Coleman said in a statement.

Times staff writer Jeff Gill contributed to this report.


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