Licking Valley school shooting threat turned out to be hoax, one of many throughout state

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By Staff Report

First responders from around the region rushed to multiple educational buildings within the Licking Valley School District Friday morning after a caller reported that an individual with a gun was inside the high school.

The threat turned out to be a hoax, one of many throughout the state at around the same time, but for nearly everyone involved the ‘false alarm’ was a chilling reminder of the all too somber reality that each year some students walk into their schools and never get to walk out.

Unlike what has been observed in other parts of the country, an immense force of law enforcement and medical personnel, some dispatched, others on their own accord, rushed to the district’s campus at the first notice of the possible threat, quickly breaching multiple buildings and ensuring there was no active shooter in any of them. Many have said the ‘disgusting prank’ hasn’t gone entirely in vain, noting that it will allow responders to better prepare themselves for an actual active shooter event they all hope and pray will never come.

It was a chill Autumn morning, the First Day of Fall. Students were excited to be getting out early, ready for the evening football game against Zanesville and their weekend shenanigans.

At Licking Valley High School in eastern Licking County, neighboring Tri-Valley and West Muskingum in adjacent Muskingum County, some students were enjoying their lunch in the cafeteria. Unbeknownst to them and all their fellow students, their day was about to change, many said after the fact that what transpired was something they won’t soon forget.

According to limited details released by law enforcement and collaborated with scanner traffic, Licking County’s 911 Center received a call from someone who claimed to be inside the building reporting an ‘active shooter.’ That individual described the gunman as a white male wearing a gray shirt armed with an ‘assault riffle’ and wearing ‘body armor,’ last seen on the second floor of the high school.

Licking Valley, like many districts in the region, has armed law enforcement at its buildings. In this case, according to multiple reports, the school resource officer was in the cafeteria along with many of the building’s students. Dispatches worked to make contact with the officer and building staff, both to confirm the report and to ensure the building was, if it hadn’t been already, put into lockdown.

Meanwhile, officers with multiple law enforcement agencies, including the Licking County Sheriff’s Office and Newark Police, radioed they were on their way east to the Licking Valley Campus, which houses, in three separate buildings, all of its roughly 2,000 students.

Within minutes the first cruisers, rushing down the two-lane road, made their way into the front parking lot of the high school. Seconds after pulling in at least two deputies immediately entered the building – after failures at Robb Elementary School in Texas, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed earlier this year, law enforcement had been reminded of the need to breach the building of a school shooting as soon as arriving and to eliminate any threat as quickly as possible. For some responding to the scene, it was as personal as it could get, their kids were inside as well. Sweeps of the hallways and classrooms began almost immediately.

No one had heard gunshots, according to multiple accounts, but quickly confusion began to spread among students, observing law enforcement in their building, and community members, seeing a large police presence headed to the campus, began to assume the worst. Social media flooded with unconfirmed reports, all of which turned out to be false, that there was a confirmed shooter at the school. Students were observed ‘running for their lives’ away from buildings and as law enforcement continued to roll in they faced another challenge, parents began heading to the buildings as well.

Soon shots were reported at the neighboring middle school, which use to be the old high school and middle school, up over the hill, forcing law enforcement to split between the two buildings. That too would eventually be proven to be false, but in the moment the momentum grew that there was a shooter in at least one of the schools. More students continued to evacuate, others hunkered down in their classrooms with their doors locked.

One viral post on social media recounted that in at least one classroom at the high school the male students directed their fellow female classmates to get behind them, creating a human shield as they braced for a gunman that never came.

As law enforcement worked to clear all three buildings, they detained an adult male wearing a vest who also possessed a firearm and multiple magazines. It turned out he was there to pick up his child, fearing what many parents who rushed to the school that day did, that their child was in danger. Many showed up Friday with firearms, ready to supplement law enforcement, should their help be needed.

They weren’t the only ones, off-duty first responders also arrived at the scene in mass ready to assist. Most training shows that once a person is shot, there is roughly only a three-minute window to stop the bleeding.

The scene was extremely hectic Friday morning, in one direction students could be seen running away from their buildings at full sprint, appearing to truly believe their lives were in danger from a would-be school shooter. In the opposite direction were parents, many of which ran just as fast toward the school buildings. Many kids and parents, some of which were being reunited on a hill southwest of the middle school, could be seen crying as the surrealness of the situation took hold.

As the buildings were swept multiple times, and the reality that it was indeed a false alarm, law enforcement began to hear about other similar cases around the state. Princeton High School in Sharonvile, Garfield High School in Akron, Belmont High School in Dayton, Catholic Central High School in Springfield, Findlay High School, Scott High School in Toledo and St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland all received similar reports, verifying that there was never a real threat to students at Licking Valley, but for so many, it felt real.

From the law enforcement officers who responded to the scene to the students who sat in their classrooms unsure who might come up to their door, it was as close as they ever hope to come to an actual active shooter situation.

As the message made its way around that students had never truly been in any danger, that no shots were ever fired, the tension of the situation began to lessen but the crowd of parents continued to grow, finally being allowed closer to each school building.

In front of Licking Valley High School, Superintendent Scott Beery addressed parents and guardians in an impassioned update about what had transpired over the previous hours and how students would be released.

Hundreds of parents stood in line Friday afternoon to pick up their children, by the end of the day when nearly 30 buses pulled up to take students home, most departed empty, those with students only had a few children on board, nearly every parent had come to get their child.

According to Licking County Sheriff Randy Thorp, law enforcement is investigating who might have made not just the call to the Licking County 911 Center but to those across Ohio reporting school shootings.

“I kind of worry it was to measure a response, that kind of thing,” said Thorp. “I can’t imagine it was just for fun.”