‘Could this possibly be a hoax?’: Stress caused by fake school shooting claims

Published: Oct. 7, 2019 at 9:10 PM CDT
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Following back-to-back false school shooting reports in the NBC15 News viewing area, law enforcement officers stress the severity of making a false claim.

Last week, a student in the Rio Community School District reported he overheard two students discussing a school shooting. Just days before, it was the same story at Sun Prairie High School, that time leading to a false 911 call and SWAT response.

“In today’s day and age, you know, this is a real thing,” says Lt. Kevin Konopacki of the Sun Prairie Police Department. “The call comes out on the PA system, ‘Active shooter, you need to get out of the school, this is not a drill!’”

That terrifying message echoed through the hallways of Sun Prairie High School on September 27. Every available officer responded to the call of a possible school shooting.

“Just the officers heading over there and their adrenaline is going in them, thinking, 'Oh my goodness, this could be a real situation.' That's going to put a lot of stress on them,” Lt. Konopacki tells NBC15 News.

But it was unnecessary stress for officers, created by a 15-year-old student who claimed she overheard a plan to shoot up the school while in the bathroom.

All available officers responded to what they believed to be a credible threat.

“Now we are responding in an active shooter type of mode. We’re going over there, lights and sirens, as fast as we can,” Lt. Konopacki says. “We’re getting there and we’re going to don ballistic helmets, ballistic vets … We’re going to get out our AR-15s and our squads and we’re going to approach it as a very tactical situation.”

The response meant officers evacuated the school immediately, rushing inside to locate a shooter.

“At that point in time, you’re just going to go through that entire school and make sure everything is secure,” Lt. Konopacki explains. “You’re going to clear every room, you’re going to clear ever hallway. Basically every nook and cranny in that school: garbage cans, desks, closets.”

Lt. Konopacki says his team responded with all hands on deck, taking away from any legitimate problems.

“If you had a real emergency somewhere else in the city, and we're responding to a call that's false, and now that person is in dire need of services, and now it's going to take us some time, because we have to figure out whether this is legitimate or not,” he says.

But it wasn’t just about wasting resources; Lt. Konopacki says an active shooter evacuation can take a toll on students and staff.

“Just the trauma that these kids must have felt running out of there thinking, 'This is it. This is really happening,’” he says.

Lt. Konopacki stresses a zero tolerance policy for any false reports.

NBC15 News has reached out to Dane County for the 911 call recording and transcript of the false shooting claim in Sun Prairie. So far, our crews have not heard back.

The student who made the call now faces charges of terrorist threats and obstruction. Because she’s only 15-years-old, and still a minor, her name and possible motive have not been released as the investigation continues.

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