Several students at a Florida high school may face criminal charges and possible expulsion after causing a shooting scare in what police say was a "cruel prank."
Misinformation, false rumors, and conspiracy theories abounded on social media after two groups of students at Mainland High School in Daytona Beach caused a panic Friday by making false reports that a gunman was in the school building, Daytona Beach Police Department said in a Facebook message.
"This entire incident appears to have been a cruel prank by several students that has now gotten out of control due to internet trolls, miss-informed people and in some cases, people that are not even in Florida, or have kids that go to school at Mainland," police said Sunday.
The police department posted a timeline of events and their investigation to clarify what happened. Detectives tirelessly reviewed video evidence, tracked down individuals, and conducted interviews before the department posted the findings.
On Thursday, Mainland High School was made aware of a threat that was written in a bathroom stall. An investigation by the school and police determined that no threat existed, as the graffiti found in the stall was a "common occurrence," police said. However, an increased law enforcement presence was added at the school as a precaution.
The next day, several students "decided to capitalize on the threat from the day before (bathroom stall) and appear to collaborate with each other to create a panic," police said.
"The groups can clearly be seen on video, getting into specific positions and locations within the cafeteria, timing their actions. Several female students walk towards the school administrator laughing and smiling, all the way, up until they reached the administrator, at which point one of the females tells the administrator that someone had a gun. At this same time, one of the male kids, already positioned near the exit to the cafeteria, waited until the female student made the statement, then looked at her and ran out of the building, causing a large crowd to follow him," police said.
Video evidence showed that students did not flinch or react as they would be expected to had gunfire actually been heard, according to detectives.
Of the students interviewed, none were able to identify the purported gunman or the moment shots were supposedly fired. "Stories have changed from seeing the guy, or a gun, to 'they just heard there was one,'" police said.
Making a false report concerning the use of firearms in a violent manner against a person or persons is a second-degree felony, according to police. In addition to pending criminal charges for the "pranksters," detectives are recommending that everyone involved be expelled from school, the statement said.
Volusia County Schools released a statement Monday indicating that "unfounded rumors" and "threats" against the school were being "spread by students on social media."
"Spreading false information on Social Media is a very serious offense. This offense can carry a charge of a 2nd-degree felony by law enforcement and suspension with a recommendation for expulsion from Volusia County Schools," the school district said. "This behavior will not be tolerated as the safety of our students and staff is paramount."
"Every student linked to the disruption on Friday has been identified, and those with direct involvement will face the appropriate consequences based on our student Code of Conduct," the district added.
School officials advised parents to communicate the dangers of such pranks to their children and explain the severity of the consequences.