Bellefonte schools increase police presence after reported threat

There has been an added police presence in Bellefonte Area School District schools this week after the district and borough police investigated reports of a possible shooting at the high school, Superintendent Michelle Saylor said Thursday.

A threat was never made to anyone in the school or the building itself and there was never mention of a gun, police Chief Shawn Weaver said Tuesday. He referred to the reported threat, which said there would be a shooting Friday, as a “hoax.”

“We received tips that were reported through an anonymous system that were immediately (and) thoroughly investigated by the police,” Saylor said in a statement Thursday. “Unfortunately, social media came into play with posts that stemmed from an initial post someone made that was not accurate. When social media began to circulate misinformation, we shared our statement confirming in this case there was no threat.”

When parents and community members expressed concern about how the investigation was communicated, the district “re-investigated” and again found no credible threat, she said.

The district’s communication was “poor at best,” Anne Kline, a parent of a student in the district, said. Elizabeth Timblin, who has two children in the district, said the district’s messages were “extremely vague and seem to dismiss the (reported) threat.”

“It’s difficult to feel at ease in this day and age with a situation like this with no information being shared,” Kline said. “I understand that there are confidential pieces of information that cannot be shared, but if you want to stop people from panicking, then you should put people at ease with information. ... There has to be a better way of communicating and helping the community to move past it.”

The district on Thursday morning posted a message to Facebook that said — in addition to the increased police presence in the schools — there is scheduled to be a increased police presence at the school’s football game Friday against Central Mountain High School.

There will not be metal detectors, but additional police officers from Bellefonte and Spring Township are scheduled to be at the game. The district is asking fans to refrain from bringing backpacks to Rogers Stadium, which may be subject to a search, Saylor said.

“We are heightening police presence to help those affected by social media’s misinformation feel safe at school and Friday’s events,” Saylor said. “Unfortunately, inaccurate social media posts increase anxiety and feed fear. We don’t want our students or community to feel that way, especially when there, again, was no threat.”

Saylor declined to comment about the status of the person who submitted the report, saying student information is confidential. Both Timblin and Kline said they plan to send their children to school Friday.

“I love Bellefonte and want our community to feel safe. I trust that the police are taking the matter seriously,” Kline said. “It’s the communication that we need to work on.”

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.