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Malfunctioning water heater prompts active shooter scare at North Carolina high school

A malfunctioning water heater on the roof is to blame for a false active shooter report at a North Carolina high school on Friday morning. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

A malfunctioning water heater on the roof of a North Carolina high school led to a false active shooter report on Friday morning.

What are the details?

Pender County Sheriff's Office spokesman Capt. James Rowell told WWAY-TV that someone called 911 around 5:51 a.m. to report sounds believed to be gunfire coming from Topsail High School in Hampstead.

A group of students was reportedly on school grounds for cheerleading practice when the call was made, hours before classes were set to start at 8:30 a.m. The students were evacuated, several area schools were put on lockdown, and busses en route were diverted to park safely away from the campus while law enforcement investigated.

No shooter was found when a SWAT team swept the school, and the sound was instead determined to have come from a water heater with a faulty combustion chamber.

Sheriff Carson Smith told WWAY, "What I heard when I got here sounded like gunfire. I don't want people to think the students or officers who responded overreacted."

The county's emergency management director, Tom Collins, agreed, telling the Evening Standard the noise coming from the heater "sounded like an AR-15 going off."

Sheriff Smith emphasized to The Associated Press that everyone who treated the sound like gunfire "did exactly what they should have."

Anything else?

Officials and citizens alike are on high alert following a string of recent mass murders in the U.S., which might contribute to the explanations behind a recent string of false active shooter reports.

Last week, a false report was made that an active shooter was at an AMC movie theater in Brooklyn, Ohio, and another false report was made the same day at a hospital in Morehead, Kentucky. Both facilities were put on lockdown until police were able to search the buildings.

In August, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio was briefly shut down after a training drill prompted a report of a possible active shooter at the base hospital. In a separate instance in Miami Township, Ohio, a man made a 911 call falsely claiming there was an active shooter at a nearby grocery store, allegedly in hopes of diverting police away from taking a suspect into custody at their home for an unrelated matter.

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