Riverside school officials and police last week worked to reassure parents and their children, who attend Hauser Junior High School, after word started spreading that a student was planning to bring a gun to school the following day and start shooting.
With the number of shootings that have taken place at schools in the past decade or so, we can understand how parents would become concerned. Someone, police believe it was an adult, sent an online message to police outlining the alleged threat — a message that specifically identified a suspect and the type of weapon to be used.
Police responded to the school, where they searched the boy’s gym and hallway lockers, and they also went to his home, which they searched for weapons. They searched the internet history of computers the boy had access to as well, in order to confirm whether he’d visited terror-related sites. That information was also being passed around, further inflaming fears.
In the end there were no weapons. Neither the boy nor any member of his family possessed a weapon. The boy had not visited terror sites on the internet.
When the smoke cleared, what it looked like more and more was that this boy was unfairly and cruelly targeted. It’s not clear to us how the rumors got started, but we know how they spread — first among students via social media and then to parents, who also took to social media.
As parents, we are laser focused on the well-being of our children. Their safety is paramount.
But the safety of my child is no more important than the safety of another child. And there’s a child at Hauser Junior High School who has been marked. If you are a parent or student at Hauser, you know who the rumors were swirling around. You may have played a part in swirling them. And that’s wrong.
The threat of gun violence is serious and real in this country, and it doesn’t appear that’s going to change anytime soon. We’re figuring out how to deal with real and perceived threats to children’s safety, and in many cases we’re walking a tightrope trying to balance safety with rational response.
But we’ve got to do it responsibly. Should the rumor have been reported? Absolutely. Did social media make the situation worse and fan the flames of fear? Yes.
As the rumors filtered out into the public sphere, the worry was that many children were in danger. Now there’s just one, and he doesn’t deserve it. He’s a child.
We’re confident that District 96 will take steps to address this situation at the school and classroom level. They must — for the sake of this particular child or any child wrongly accused of something.
As a community of adults, we need to make sure we’re also acting judiciously and fairly when it comes to other people’s kids.