Update: Principal Richard Poor reported Saturday, “As the evening unfolded, each student that claimed to have seen a weapon recanted. When questioned, changed their statements to report that they had not seen a weapon but heard of a weapon from a friend.” Poor told parents in an email, “We spoke with every student identified, and I am happy to report that no student stated they had seen a weapon or heard a shot fired. While there was a minor physical altercation at the dance, it was quickly addressed, students involved were not on school grounds at the time of the evacuation.”
Social media has been accused of stoking student fights at Haverhill schools, but the Facebook platform appeared to amplify parents’ spread of, what police called, “unfounded” rumors of a gun seen at dance Friday at a middle school.
There were no first-hand posts of a gun seen or used at the Spring Fling dance at the Dr. Albert B. Consentino School, but several parents reported their children’s third-hand claims. One of only two parents who posted their child actually saw a gun later walked back the claim, saying “my son didn’t see him with it, but he ran to safety. He was terrified he could get shot.”
Principal Richard Poor confirmed in a late Friday night email to parents that “students were evacuated from the school and the Haverhill Police Department contacted” around 6:30. He repeated “the report of a weapon is unfounded,” noting the school was “swept and cleared out of an abundance of caution.” He acknowledged the event was “traumatizing to our entire school community” and told parents of a community gathering Saturday afternoon at the school.
Haverhill Police said in its own social media postings, “The investigation is active and ongoing. Will provide updates as more information becomes available. Anyone with information regarding this incident, please contact Detective John Orsillo at 978-373-1212, ext.1557.”
The gist of the rumor, as reported by one parent, is “…there was a fight. The kids were kicked out of the dance. Then someone went home to get a gun. The kids at the dance were all running outside. There were kids hiding in the woods behind the school.” Another parent posted “windows were broken and as everyone was running out kids were on the ground getting trampled.” One variation, posted by a parent, claimed children were outside when “the gun was pulled out and then it was shot in the air.”
There were no independent confirmations of the claims. One mother, however, who said she was outside waiting for the dance to conclude, reported “I saw pretty much everything that happened. I did not hear a gun shot.”
Independent analyses of such situations are next to impossible with the state legislature’s mandated secrecy laws that are made worse by algorithm-driven hate mongering allegedly employed by some social media.
Others resorted to “whataboutisms,” saying the presence of an apparently unused knife at a different school incident somehow proved the existence of a coverup.
One parent urged families to appear for public comments at next Thursday night’s School Committee meeting., saying “It’s time us parents take a stand for our kids. We have to show the school committee that we are tired of violence in our schools. Our kids deserve to feel safe at school and not have to worry what may happen.” The invitation offered no suggestions on what action School Committee members might take, but another parent voiced support for installation of metal detectors.
The School Committee recently called for confiscating the cell phones of students whose social media postings encourage bad behavior. The Committee has no such authority over parents’ phones.