Text Message 'Miscommunication' Puts Three New Jersey Schools On Lockdown

from the all-that's-missing-is-the-ONLY-detail-that-matters dept

Today’s dose of paranoia and confusion comes to us courtesy of RyanNerd. We’ve seen schools react badly to perceived threats before, but the lack of a single crucial detail makes it impossible to determine whether this incident is one of those cases. What we do know is that three New Jersey schools were locked down and swarmed by police officers as the result of a single text from a student to a parent.

According to the New York Daily News, the culprit was autocorrect.

A panicked mom called local police and sparked a three-hour lock down of South Plainfield High School in New Jersey, officials told The Daily News.

“It created a heck of a mess,” Schools Superintedent Stephen Genco told The Daily News.

Genco did not disclose exactly what the text message said, but said it involved the kid’s phone not working.

“Auto correct created a situation where it looked like it was something totally different,” he said.

For three hours, students were kept in their classrooms while buildings, backpacks and lockers were searched by law enforcement. In at least one school, students were searched as well.

The district issued an all-clear at 1:30pm, three hours after the panic began. A statement was issued by the district, which failed to address the content of the text message, but gave a lot of credit to the district’s lockdown drills.

As you know, today there was an incident that caused authorities to put the HS , Middle School and Grant into a lockdown situation. The police have concluded their investigation and have determined that there was no threat. Currently the police are concluding their procedures and have authorized the reopening of all three buildings. All procedures were followed and it was clear that the practice drills we hold in each of our schools assisted in readying the students and staff for this incident. Thank you for your patience and support.

Even the Borough of South Plainfield felt moved to issue a statement via its Facebook page.

South Plainfield High School, Middle School and Grant School were all on lockdown earlier today. There was a miscommunication from a student to parent that caused a call into the Borough’s 911 center. Police were required to investigate and initiate lockdown procedures. It was a miscommunication. The reports of arrests are totally false. everyone is safe.

Throughout all this communication, everyone involved has taken great care to withhold the content of the text that kicked off the three-school lockdown.

Here’s what can be ascertained from the smattering of facts dispersed across several articles.

1. A text was sent by a student to a parent.
2. This text was misinterpreted by the parent, either due to the student’s own error or the unforced error of autocorrect.
3. The student’s parent contacted the local police.
4. Police swarmed three schools, which were all placed on lockdown for three hours.
5. Nothing was discovered, no arrests were made and the all-clear was sounded.

One report contains this speculative statement from district superintendent Stephen Genco.

Genco said there were “several rumors,” including that someone was bringing a gun to the high school’s pep rally Friday.

So, why is this text being withheld? The school could make the argument that the involvement of a minor raises privacy issues and thus, the text’s content must be withheld. But this conspicuous omission hardly seems to be policy-related. Superintendent Genco never broaches the subject of district policy which is normally the first card played during iffy situations like these. Someone’s embarrassed about their reaction. Whether it’s the parent, the local PD or the school district remains to be seen. Somehow a text about a malfunctioning phone resulted in a police sweep (with K9 units) and lockdown of three schools, but so far, none of the reassuring voices (school, PD, city officials) have come forward to show the public exactly what mistake was made and how it was interpreted as a potential threat. (Here’s how it could have happened…) More questions than answers here, I’m afraid, and that makes it tough to gauge the appropriateness of this response.

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Comments on “Text Message 'Miscommunication' Puts Three New Jersey Schools On Lockdown”

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Ninja (profile) says:

I’m betting they are afraid of releasing the text because it’s something such as the student saying “Omg mom, the day is gonna be explosive!” or instead of saying “I forgot to bring the comb!” the corrector replaced with bomb.. Or maybe it was a girl and she sent a pic of the guy pretending to shot her heart (flirting) but the gesture was mistaken for some serial shooter pattern.. Regardless of the case it’s all about national security baby!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: lol wot national security ?

No it’s NOT. It’s about a regular cop with a situation.

You’re an average police officer in a town.
Get phone call and a credible threat reported.
Possible immediate threat to school pupils.

Now what are you going to do ?

1) Hurr durr, long-assed investigation
2) Immediately inform schools and lockdown, then investigate further.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The proper response should be text back “What?!”, and get clarifications from their child. If they don’t get a response from the child, the next step would be to call the school to tell them “My child sent me a worrying text message. I think it’s an auto-correct error, but I can’t get ahold of them. The text message reads…”

From which point the school administration can haul the student out of class to learn it’s an auto correct error, and their teacher had made them turn their phone off for texting in class. Alternatively they themselves can call the cops if they deem it appropriate, and hopefully only the one school would be put on lockdown.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I completely agree.
Unfortunately, it seems like too many people are almost being trained to hit the panic button instead of calmly going through the correct channels. Why call the school and get an “everything’s fine” message when the parent can call 911 and lock down three schools, presumably because little Johnny isn’t answering his phone because his teacher told him to turn it off.

We also need people to get upset and protest reactions like this. Otherwise, like other posters are saying, people will get used to this kind of response. Little Suzy isn’t answering Mom? Use this situation as a precedent and call 911 to lock down a school.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: A consequence of having retarded gun laws

Can’t the NRA push for the creation of a “school edition” gun that has a slide rule along the barrel?

Also modify textbooks: You have a locker combination lock lined up in your target site. It is directly in front of you. You move 20 feet to your left, use a sextant to measure the angle to the locker combination lock and obtain 84.29 degrees. From your original position, now 20 feet to your right, what is the distance from your weapon to the locker combination lock?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: come back to planet earth


People with access to military contractors like blackwater, the military, the police including riot police, the nsa, airforce etc…

Implying they are afraid of a few people because they have guns… delusion-ally priceless.

Also… how is having all those guns working so far ?
They are soo scared they work for the people… lolwot?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: come back to planet earth

You’re right. Of all of the “everybody should own guns” arguments I’ve heard, that one is by far the most ludicrous. There is no way that a meaningful number of people can own the type of firepower that would be required to defend against the might of the US military.

If their revolutionary wet dreams are realized and it is the people engaged in an armed struggle with the government, then tactics of the people would have to be guerrilla warfare. Small arms would be useful, of course, but would also be available through the same methods that they’re always available in those situations: theft, looting bodies, etc.

DannyB (profile) says:

A new technique for terrorists

There is a simple and obvious way for terrorists to completely cripple the entire US without the use of a single weapon, explosive or other means of violence.

Simply send a lot of threats everywhere, putting all schools, airports, state, federal and local government buildings and military installations on lockdown, and causing all traffic and commerce to screech to a halt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Student says “Momb there’s a real tgreat for school liunch today!”

AC says “Bomb there’s a real threat for school launch today!”

mom reads “there’s a real bomb threat launch at school today!”

Mom tells SWAT team “there’s a bomb threat at school!”

SWAT team eagerly searches every student’s property at school without a warrant.

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