Shooting threat empties school


Jamie Marlowe

Only a few students were present at school on Thursday after an anonymous threat to “shoot up” Midtown circulated on social media.

Students received an anonymous message Wednesday night detailing intentions to “shoot up” Midtown, forcing many to stay home over safety concerns. 

The threat is a replication of a message that has been targeted at students at schools across the nation. Authorities are still investigating the threat.

According to Atlanta Public Schools, “APS PD is being assisted in the investigation by Atlanta Police, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The safety, security, and well-being of APS students and employees is a top priority for the district.”

According to a social media post from Principal Dr. Betsy Bockman on the Midtown PTSO Facebook, the person responsible for the social media threat doesn’t live in Georgia. 

The message named 15 Midtown students as those who the shooter would “kill first.” Sophomore Grady Miller was one of those called out by name in the message. 

“I was scared, and I was like, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t go to school today,’” Miller said. “You know, just in case. I didn’t know… I was really scared; my hands were shaking.”

Sophomore Sinclair Richman who is on the Southerner staff, was another student on the list. She was shocked to read her name in the threat and stayed home from school. 

“I was getting texts and DMs from everyone I knew, sending me pictures and everything, but I hadn’t heard about it at that point,” Richman said. “But I was getting texts from a bunch of people asking if I was okay, and I was like ‘yeah, what do you mean?’ and then I started seeing the screenshot going around, and I was like wow that’s creepy.”

Richman has seen incidents similar to this happen across the country but didn’t feel their significance until she was directly affected. 

“I have cousins who live in Texas; so, when I got news of the Uvalde shooting, I checked to see how close they were to that because it was obviously scary, but then when it’s here, it makes it so much more real,” Richman said.

APS also said, “Parents were notified immediately. Extra security was present at Midtown for student and staff arrival this morning. Emotional support personnel are present at the school today to meet with students and staff if needed, and the day is progressing normally.”

The Student Lot, which usually fills before 8:30 every morning, was left close to empty. (Jamie Marlowe)

All students who entered the school building went through metal detectors and thorough bag checks and were wanded down with a handheld metal detector. The building was close to empty, with class sizes ranging from completely vacant to no more than 10 students in some cases. All students who did not attend school received excused absences.

“I thought maybe a few kids would be out, but I think it’s over half the school,” science teacher Roderick Hill said.

French teacher Anne Holzhausen said she felt very safe in the school building today, especially with the added police presence. With the majority of her students missing, she was unable to teach a normal lesson, but she said her main goal was to ensure that students were feeling safe and secure in the school. 

“I can understand why it would be really scary to send your kids to school given the circumstances,” Holzhausen said. “I think the school did a good job of communicating early and effectively to parents that it is okay to keep their kids home, and I think the response has been good as far as having additional security.”

This is Holzhausen’s first year teaching at Midtown. She feels better knowing many are viewing the threat as a hoax, but finds “jokes” like these to be disconcerting.

“Sadly, it’s not totally shocking in this day and age,” Holzhausen said. “At my previous school, we’ve had shooting threats before, and so it’s always scary whenever we have something like that because you never know if it’s going to be serious or not. So I mean, I feel like the school handled it well taking it seriously until we know what the situation really is.”

Zachary Chan is one of the few students who decided to attend school, thinking he might have to take a quiz today.

“I didn’t think the risk was big enough because I obviously knew that it was… a joke,” Chan said. “A cruel joke, but they’re just sending it as a joke.” 

Outdoor lunch tables were vacant. (Jamie Marlowe)

While many students found out about the situation through social media, some were not aware of the incident until their arrival at school. 

“I walked into my biology class and somebody texted me that there was a shooter threat and that’s how I realized then, that’s why there’s eight people in my class,” freshman Eli Stepakoff said. 

Students were not required to attend school Thursday. Nonetheless, parent Jacob Reson said Midtown should have canceled school, regardless of the threat’s nature. 

“Why did we have school … I don’t care, even if it is a hoax, you are literally putting students at risk,” Reson said. “Any college, any government building or airport, if they have a scare like that, they don’t have people come to work; they don’t have people go to school; it’s nuts. This is a crazy time, and we need to change how we do things.”

Many parents appreciated the communication throughout the day from Dr. Bockman.

“I think Dr. Bockman did an incredible job of putting our students, the community and her staff first,” parent Julie Roseman said. “She took it seriously and did exactly what she should have done, and she was excellent at communicating throughout the day and reassuring families about what was happening. I couldn’t have asked for more from her.”

Senior Emilia Weinrobe was initially hesitant to go to school, but once she saw the additional safety measures put in place, she was not as concerned. 

“I honestly feel very on edge,” Weinrobe said. “I came into the school very nervous and anxious for the day, and I didn’t really know what to expect. As class went along, I’ve become more relaxed about it because no teachers seem to be on edge, everyone’s just kind of trying to carry on with the day as normal as possible.”

Although the threat is thought to be fake, it raises concerns about the state of education and violence in the United States.

“Still, it’s just the fact that people think that it’s funny or that people feel inclined to make threats like that is just really disconcerting, especially in our current climate,” Holzhausen said.

In a detailed message sent to parents Thursday night, Dr. Bockman said the school will return to its normal process for absences starting Friday morning. She urges students to care for each other and limit time spent on social media, noting recent violence in the Midtown community including a shooting at a party two weeks ago and another shooting unrelated to school this past week in the Midtown area. Additionally, a Midtown student remains in hospital after a shooting at a local metro station and two other Midtown students were killed in gun violence in just over a year.

“These criminal and violent acts deeply impact the entire Midtown community – not just Midtown High,” Dr. Bockman said in the statement. “Some students are experiencing these type events for the first time; other students have faced these situations way more often than families in any community should. Students process all this in different ways. Give your children space to talk (when they are ready), give a lot of reassurance, share that you are struggling with all this too.”