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School shooting investigation prompts 'social media frenzy'

Kayla Henson / Forum News Service

A single post on social media created a sensation over the weekend as middle school parents learned of a possible threat to the security of their children.

On Monday, the Dickinson Police Department and the Dickinson Public School Administration responded to the "rumors" and concern raised by parents in a joint statement to the public.

"On Friday, February 1st, the Dickinson Police Department began investigating rumors of alarming statements being uttered by a student at the Dickinson Middle School," Dustin Dassinger, chief of police, said in a statement. "This situation did not involve any direct threat or planned student harm. It was ultimately determined the majority of alleged statements were fabricated and had been made prior to the actual report to law enforcement."

However, according to the department the continued investigation into the matter took a turn on Monday, Feb. 4.

"After establishing that extremely vague alarming utterances had indeed been made, a 14- year-old juvenile male was taken into custody and charged with terrorizing," Dassinger continued. "The juvenile was subsequently transported to the Youth Correctional Center in Mandan the same day. The juvenile was later returned to Dickinson the following day for a detention hearing. At the hearing, it was determined he posed no immediate threat and was released to the custody of his parents."

Dassinger said that some parents, "who unfortunately were victimized by a social media frenzy of embellishments and rumors," required calming and assurance by additional police resources at the Dickinson Middle School early on Monday.

"It should also be noted that the Dickinson Middle School has a full-time school resource officer assigned to the school and has been there the entire school year," Dassinger said.

In a joint statement from the Dickinson Public Schools and the Dickinson Police Department, released midday on Monday, the school administration followed emergency procedures that culminated in determining the appropriateness of notifying parents, students, staff and family members of the Dickinson Public Schools.

"In response to questions and concerns surrounding a rumor of a planned school shooting today at our middle school, we would like to issue this joint statement informing our parents, students, staff and all community members, that this situation was thoroughly investigated and found to be nothing more than an unsubstantiated rumor," Shon Hocker, superintendent of Dickinson Public Schools, said. "A separate situation that occurred approximately 10 days ago alerted school authorities of comments being said by a student attending the middle school. These comments were investigated and determined to be nothing more than inappropriate comments."

Hocker reiterated that the situation did not involve any direct threats or planned student harm.

"Multiple outside agencies were involved in this investigation," he said. "Unsubstantiated rumors further developed from this 10-day-old incident resulted in a rumor yesterday on social media. This rumor was embellished and created alarm for our DMS family and community. To assist our students and families to alleviate any fear that may have been created from this rumor, we involved the Dickinson Police Department and asked them to have a presence at the school today.

"We want to take this time to reiterate the continued importance for all students, staff, parents and community friends and family within the Dickinson Public Schools to continue to report any and all safety concerns to the appropriate adult," Hocker said. "Student safety is the highest concern. We also want to encourage students, staff, parents and all Dickinson Public Schools family members to avoid participation in spreading of unsubstantiated rumors."

Hocker added, "Please rest assured that had this reported 'rumor' been investigated to be anything more than simply an embellished rumor, school administration would have followed our emergency procedures which culminate in determining the appropriateness of notifying parents, students, staff and all family members of Dickinson Public Schools."

Parents who spoke with The Press said that they weren't satisfied with the handling of the situation.

"When that kid was taken into custody we should have been notified, rumor or not," Brittney Rushford, a parent of a 13-year-old Dickinson Middle School child, said. "I'm a little pissed off at the school. Nobody was notified about this until I went online and saw that the Dickinson Police Department had issued their original statement online. We should have been notified that day, not a week later."

Choosing not to send their child to school today, Rushford said she didn't appreciate the tone the school took with addressing her concerns on Monday.

"For the principal to sit there with a smile on his face and tell me this is was just a rumor is unprofessional," Rushford said. "Don't tell me that's it's a rumor when the kid was arrested. People aren't arrested for rumors."

Alex Carlin, a parent of a middle school student, said that he wanted consequences.

"If there are no criminal punishments dealt for this 'rumor' how do I know that it's not going to happen down the road?" Carlin said. "I don't feel safe; my son doesn't feel safe."

On the Dickinson Police Department's Facebook page, the response from parents has been harsh.

"Seems to me the school and police are wanting to point fingers and not take responsibility for their failure to alert parents of this situation," Hannah Rednour said. "It's not a rumor if it's the truth, and thanks to social media parents were able to find out about the issues, in turn forcing the school and police to come forth and tell the public what is happening."

Another poster, Lindsey Southiseng, pointed to the lack of understanding by the Dickinson Police Department and Dickinson School System about why parents are upset.

"The reason most parents are upset is because they were unaware of what happened in the first place," she said. "If this type of statement would've been released when it happened we wouldn't be in this situation. Neither DPS or the police department has said why we weren't informed, which is one of the main questions parents wanted answered."