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Online threats have several Maine schools on high alert

Some Maine schools closed on Friday due to safety concerns.

MAINE, USA — Several online threats have many Maine schools on high alert.

A challenge being spread on the video app TikTok has been a contributing factor to the issue. School officials say that the challenge encourages people to call in bomb threats, school shooting threats, and more at schools across the U.S.

Schools in multiple states step up security in response to vague threats on TikTok

According to Shannon Moss with the Maine Department of Public Safety, there have been no credible threats to any school in Maine. Still, authorities will continue to monitor any online activities that could have "nefarious intent." 

Maine State Police first learned about these threats earlier this week and immediately notified schools and police departments. Lt. Tyler Stevenson said the Maine Information and Analysis department looks into these types of threats to determine if they're credible. He said the messages posted to social media are usually vague, and because of that can be difficult to determine what school or even what state it's intended for. 

"We had a threat today, for example, that came into Maine but also came into Montana, Florida, South Carolina, and now in California as west coast schools are going into session," Stevenson said.

Angela Delorme is an ED tech III at Washburn Elementary School in Auburn. She also was elected the Auburn Education Association Union president. She said at least 40% of students in the district were not in school on Friday.

"We now have this heightened risk that's involved in attending and teaching at our schools," Delorme said. 

In Gorham, Superintendent Heather Perry said classes were dismissed early this morning at the middle school and high school. Perry said the threat was high enough that they decided to protect students and send them home. A "soft lockdown" was put in place at the elementary school but lifted shortly after so students finished their school day as usual. 

"Nobody ever wants to be in these kinds of situations but one of the benefits or one of the things that comes out of this, is that when you go through these processes and procedures you know they work, and you feel more confident that those processes and procedures are in place in the event of a real emergency," Perry said.

Sanford Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson wrote in a Dec. 16 letter that there hadn't been any credible local threats but added that school resource officers and the Sanford Police Department "are increasing their presence in the Sanford educational community."

A similar message was shared in a letter from Falmouth Superintendent Gretchen McNulty. 

"We are working closely with the police department at this time, and, out of an abundance of caution, the Falmouth Police Department will increase officer presence at the school campus tomorrow, Dec. 17," McNulty wrote.  

Below please find a recent update sent by School Superintendent Gretchen McNulty to the Falmouth School Community. Good...

Posted by Falmouth Maine Police Department on Thursday, December 16, 2021

Superintendent Eric Waddell with the Kittery School District wrote in a letter, "To be clear, there have been no threats made to schools here in Maine, but I think we all understand the power and momentum of social media and the ability for anyone to post just about anything without regard to accuracy, truth, or concern for others."

In a message posted to the Brunswick School Department website, Superintendent Phillip J. Potenziano wrote that police will be increasing their presence on the school campus Friday. It's precautionary, according to Potenziano. 

"I have been in contact with Scott Stewart, Brunswick chief of police, regarding this matter and confirmed that there are no specific or credible threats to any Brunswick schools. However, if any information led me to believe that our schools were at risk, I would take immediate action," he wrote.

In Bangor, Superintendent James Tager wrote in a letter about the TikTok challenge, "At this time, there have been no local, credible threats made in our region and no threats relating specifically to the Bangor School Department." 

He continued, "We encourage all families to take time to reinforce the expectation for safe schools and responsible use of social media. If a student should see something or hear anything suspicious or concerning, they should immediately report these concerns to a trusted adult, district administrator, and/or law enforcement." 

Wiscasset Superintendent Terry Wood announced in a letter she had canceled school and all after-school activities on Friday. She said in a letter she made the decision "since inaccurate information has been shared on Facebook and several families are feeling that there is still a risk for their child/ren." The day will be added to the end of the year.

Wiscasset Police Sergeant and School Resource Officer Perry Hatch told NEWS CENTER Maine they are investigating a "concerning statement" from a student.

Lewiston Superintendent Jake Langlais tweeted that school is canceled in that community due to a threat.

Langlais said a middle school student posted a picture to Snapchat of a weapon and threatened another student. He said he does not believe this threat was connected to the TikTok trend but was still concerned about the incident. He said it's important for parents to remind their kids that if they see something, they should say something. 

"If you have a sense or a feeling that something is not quite right you need to let school officials know so we can follow up on it," Langlais said.

In Auburn, Police Chief Jason Moen said a former student, who now lives in Sabattus, sent a picture of himself to a friend and referenced some kind of violence. The picture had guns superimposed on it. Moen said the picture quickly spread around the Auburn community.

Police say they found and interviewed the suspect and do not believe there is any real threat to the district. The district attorney's office will decide whether to pursue criminal charges against the student who sent the picture.

It's not clear if this incident was directly related to the TikTok trend.

Cumberland police said a social media post referencing a school shooting or bombing at six different schools with the initials GHS or GMS originated in South Carolina. There is no credible threat to Maine schools with these initials, police said in a Facebook post

The Cumberland Police Department is aware of new information circulating regarding a possible threat to our schools....

Posted by Cumberland, Maine Police Department on Friday, December 17, 2021

The Gardiner Police Department also made a statement on Facebook saying MSAD 11 is aware of the TikTok trend. Still, no credible threat is believed to be targeting the Maine school district. 

This week, MSAD 11 and the Gardiner Police Department learned of warnings being posted on TikTok about nationwide school...

Posted by Gardiner Police Department [ Maine ] on Friday, December 17, 2021

Presque Isle police also said there is no credible evidence that this threat affects its schools. 

Presque Isle Police Department is aware of the current concern of school shootings occurring today across the nation. At...

Posted by Presque Isle Police Department on Friday, December 17, 2021

All schools said they are expecting classes to resume as normal on Monday.

NEWS CENTER Maine is looking into these threats and will update as we learn more information.

More NEWS CENTER Maine stories. 

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