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School officials: threat was a hoax, alleged perpetrator identified

From Staff Reports

School and law enforcement officials say they have identified the source of the anonymous threat sent to Richton High School on Tuesday.

Supt. of Education Clay Anglin told The Dispatch early Wednesday that a text message was received by RHS Principal Ben Bryan around 2 p.m. Tuesday with a generic reference about a school shooting. Anglin said that school officials, in conjunction with local police and the Office of Homeland Security, had identified the source of the text message by 6 p.m. Tuesday and determined the ‘threat’ was a hoax.

School officials posted a message on social media notifying the public of the situation, advising stakeholders that they believed no real threat existed and trying to reassure parents and students that it was safe to return to campus on Wednesday. That message received a number of replies, many taking issue with the lack of specifics provided as to the perpetrators and how the threat was investigated.

On Wednesday Anglin praised the efforts of school staff and local law enforcement and defended the school district’s handling of the situation.

“We received the text message around 2 p.m.,” Anglin told The Dispatch. “By 4 p.m., Homeland Security was actively involved, and within two more hours we knew the source of the text message. Due to our investigation, we knew, more precisely we were absolutely certain, this was a hoax and not a true threat. The safety of our students is always a top priority. If we had not been certain this was not a real threat, we would have never kept school in session (Wednesday).”

“I was off campus attending a meeting in Hattiesburg when the text was received, but I could not be more pleased or more confident in the way Principal Ben Bryan and School Resource Officer Jeff Yelverton handled the situation. They took the matter seriously and got the assistance we needed to deal with the issue. They handled this situation about as well as it could have been handled.”

Despite ruling out a true threat to school safety, school officials and the Perry County Sheriff’s Office stepped up security on campus Wednesday. Sheriff Mitch Nobles followed the school district’s original Tuesday post on social media with one of his own stating that due to an abundance of caution he would be sending additional deputies to campus.

Anglin said school officials put out as much information as they could as soon as they could related to the threat, but the circumstances prevented them from providing certain details. School officials reiterated that position in a second social media post Wednesday morning.

“We want to thank everyone for their patience and understanding in this difficult matter regarding the threat to Richton High School yesterday afternoon,” a message posted to the school district’s Facebook page stated. “We understand everyone’s want for more information, but due to privacy laws and the fact the student was a minor, we could not go into many details.”

“We also did not want to hinder or compromise the rest of the investigation that had to be completed today by giving the said individual an idea that we had identified them and thus give them a chance to destroy evidence.”

The alleged culprit is reportedly a young, male student at the school. Anglin confirmed the text was sent to Principal Bryan from a school computer, using a texting app that had been downloaded to the device. The young man has been questioned by law enforcement and officials say the issue will will be handled through youth court.

“The school will handle its side of discipline on this matter and law enforcement will handle the legal side moving forward,” Anglin said. “I want to thank Sheriff Mitch Nobles, the Richton Police Department, and the Office of Homeland Security for their assistance in this matter.”

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