I am sure the residents of Riverside as well as the parents of District 96 and Hauser students are well aware of the incident involving false rumors this past week of a possible shooting incident at Hauser Junior High School. The Riverside Police Department investigated all the reports about the rumors but determined they were unfounded and the result of false rumors and chatter fueled by social media.

Even as I write this letter to the editor, some parents have continued to call the police department and state that their children continue to hear rumors, but no one has reported an actual threat. Each time officers have tracked something down to a source, the information either has turned out to be distorted or based on unconfirmed hearsay.

I recognize that making an official statement about rumors is a slippery slope. My concern is that by addressing these rumors rather than alleviate anxiety and concern, we may inadvertently heighten it. At the same time, I want our parents, students and the community to know that the Riverside Police Department takes school safety very seriously.

I am urging parents and students to use discretion and think twice before posting or reposting social media comments that might perpetuate false rumors and cause unwarranted anxieties and fears. I also encourage parents to monitor their children’s social media accounts and report any suspicious issues either to school officials or directly to the police department.

In this latest incident a specific child was named as the possible shooter that information was completely false and, actually, that child is the victim in this situation. As you can imagine as rumors continue to spread there is no doubt that other students and parents have been able to link this child to these unwarranted and unsubstantiated threats. Riverside Police had to take action by doing certain investigative tactics that required action be taken to calm fears amongst parents and students.

As the chief of police, I can assure you that my staff and I make all matters involving school safety a high priority. On the day in question of this incident, officers worked well past midnight to track down all rumors, do technical investigative follow-ups and coordinate with District 96 staff so that we were all on the same page. 

On the following days, extra officers were on the school campus, and I stood in front of the school myself to greet students and parents so they could talk to me in person about the situation.

Only a community can address these kinds of threats. Safety does not come from rumors. It comes from community engagement and a thoughtful, open plan to address danger. In Riverside we have such a plan.

Thomas Weitzel, police chief