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Mitchell among at least 5 schools in South Dakota to receive hoax active shooting calls

The call initially came into Mitchell dispatch at about 9:21 a.m. Emergency personnel converged at Mitchell High School at about 9:23 a.m., about 2 minutes after dispatch received the call. The phone call claimed multiple students were shot. By 9:28 a.m., officers determined the call was a hoax.

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A Mitchell police officer walks back to his car in response to a false shooting at Mitchell High School on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — When a report came in to Mitchell Regional 911 dispatch Thursday morning about a fatal school shooting at Mitchell High School, Principal Joe Childs was one of the first school officials contacted by local law enforcement.

Mitchell was one of at least five school districts in South Dakota to receive the hoax call, which sent emergency personnel into active shooter response mode. At all locations, there never was a shooter or danger to students or staff.

But it was an intense few minutes as Childs worked with the Mitchell Police Division and other public safety officials to evaluate the situation.

“I received a call from the Mitchell Police Division, and they explained that they had received a call that there was an active shooter at the high school, and that several individuals were fatally harmed, and that they believed the shooter was still in the school,” Childs told the Mitchell Republic.

But Childs said he was aware there were false reports to other South Dakota school districts, including Brookings and Sioux Falls Lincoln, and everything inside Mitchell High School indicated students were safely attending a quiet morning of classes. Childs said he relayed what he knew to law enforcement during that brief call.

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A group of squad cars park outside the Mitchell High School in response to a false shooting that took place Thursday morning, Oct. 13, 2022.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

“It was believed that it was a false report. Of course, there had been no reports (inside the school) of anything happening in the school, and school administration and teachers were present in the halls, and there had been no disruption or anything,” Childs said.

Police were arriving on the scene in large numbers even before Childs got off the phone with law enforcement, and he started working with officers and school officials to take stock of the situation.

The call initially came into Mitchell dispatch at about 9:21 a.m. Emergency personnel converged at Mitchell High School at about 9:23 a.m., about 2 minutes after dispatch received the call. The phone call claimed multiple students were shot. By 9:28 a.m., officers determined the call was a hoax.

Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves said Thursday morning he couldn't have been more impressed with Mitchell emergency personnel and that the district's contingency plans for an active shooting situation worked correctly.

"Their response was incredible," Graves said.

Childs made an intercom announcement to students and staff as police made their way through the building as a precautionary measure.

“I made an all-call announcement to the students and faculty and staff and explained everything that I know. That the police department has received a notification that there is an active shooter, that this is a false report, but as a precautionary measure we have public safety officials on school grounds and in our hallways,” Childs said. “And I would like them to remain in their classrooms with the doors closed.”

School officials worked with police to clear people from the school’s common gathering areas and moved through the school to make sure the scene was secure. Authorities with the Mitchell Police Department, Davison County Sheriff’s Office, Hanson County Sheriff and South Dakota Highway Patrol were among those who responded.

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“(Police) were here in large numbers, and they went through our building and checked our common spaces to make sure there were no concerns within the classrooms. Once they believed we were OK, we made an announcement to the faculty and students that they would transition to their next courses as usual,” Childs said.

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Scenes from the false shooting that took place Thursday morning, Oct. 13, 2022, at the Mitchell High School.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

School officials coordinated to get information out about the situation to parents via social media and other methods, and Childs personally walked across the street to the Joe Quintal Field parking lot to talk with an assembled group of concerned parents and community members to let them know what was going on and how it was being handled.

The school never went into an actual lockdown because of how quickly it was determined that the shooting report was false, Childs said. And students and faculty responded well to the incident and reacted calmly to the unnerving report due to the direct messaging the school used in explaining the situation.

The swift response from staff, who made sure students were accounted for, and from law enforcement arriving quickly on the scene also was reassuring during those brief moments when the situation was still being evaluated, he said.

“It certainly was an anxious moment, but maybe because of how it happened or the timeline it happened on, by the time we got the call from the local police, we were in school and we’re out and about and have a good understanding about what’s going on in our building at that time. There was nothing unusual happening this morning other than we got that call,” Childs said. “It was nice to know that our local law enforcement was on point and here so quickly, and we do have a number of school employees that were swift in taking action.”

Childs said he believed there may have been some parents who either wanted to come into the school after the incident to visit with their child or even take them home, which he said would have been allowed given the circumstances.

“Their kids may have been distraught, or them or both, and felt better about having them at home. Which is understandable, too,” Childs said.

The students and staff at Mitchell High School returned to their normal routine after police gave their approval, and things had settled down and returned to normal by the noon hour. Childs said school officials would revisit the incident and continue to work with local law enforcement on how things were handled during the response and if and how any appropriate protocols can be improved.

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Other districts receive threats

During a press briefing in Sioux Falls on Thursday after officers responded to a fake shooting at Sioux Falls Lincoln, Public Information Officer Sam Clemens said the person who made the calls appears to be from out of state.

"It's hard to understand or know the intent," Clemens said. "It's a case-by-case basis as to why a person is doing it." He added that locating the person responsible for the call is "not as easy as TV or the movies make it seem."

Brookings police issued a press release saying that "a male with a foreign accent" called in an active shooter at Brookings High School, but the school resource officer on site was present and had observed no evidence of a shooting. The school went into lockdown and officers conducted a comprehensive sweep with nothing found.

"We take these reports seriously and an extensive investigation will be conducted by local and federal agencies," the release said.

Hoax school shooting calls also occurred in Watertown and Rapid City, along with Grand Forks and Jamestown , both cities in North Dakota.

Incidents of "swatting" have been on the rise nationally recently. Swatting is when a person makes a prank phone call in an attempt to bring emergency personnel to a particular address. A prank phone call to Mitchell dispatch also occurred in December 2021.

‘This is the world we are living in’

Childs said it is disappointing that there are those out in the world who would want to spread fear at a place of learning through false reports, but it is a reality of the modern world, and the district would continue to address that reality through its emergency procedures and its close working relationship with law enforcement.

“It’s certainly disheartening that this is the world we are living in right now and that someone would do this and that it can be a believable threat. But we do have plans and procedures in place for these situations, and we follow them,” Childs said. “And it was nice, that if there is a silver lining, before I was even off the phone we had a very strong police presence of police officials and public safety officials on our campus. And that was before I was even off the phone to get that 20-second report I was getting. It was a very swift response.”

Luke Hagen was promoted to editor of the Mitchell Republic in 2014. He has worked for the newspaper since 2008 and has covered sports, outdoors, education, features and breaking news. He can be reached at lhagen@mitchellrepublic.com.
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