HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said a phone call reporting an active shooter at Volunteer High School “appears to be a hoax.”
Lawson said in a media briefing that authorities received a call Tuesday morning from a person claiming to be inside of a bathroom at Volunteer High School. The caller said they had been bullied by other students and planned to leave a bathroom and begin shooting with a handgun in the school gym.
The school was placed on lockdown and agencies from the surrounding counties and cities assisted the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office in responding to the school.
According to Lawson, the first responding officer arrived on the scene while dispatchers were still on the phone with the caller.
“We did a thorough search, we evacuated as many students as we possibly could on initial search, then went back and done a thorough search and got all the students out,” Lawson said.
Lawson stressed that misinformation hampered the situation, and no shots appeared to ever have been fired.
“At this time, everything appears to be this call was a hoax,” Lawson said. “The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office, along with the Church Hill Police Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, are determined to find where this call originated from.”
Officials had previously reported two people were transported from the scene by Hawkins County EMS, but Lawson and Director of Schools Matt Hixson later corrected that statement and said only one had been transported. Lawson said the injuries were completely unrelated to any report of a shooting.
“During the time of this call, there was a student that was sick, having a seizure and the Hawkins County EMS was on the scene and assisted by my SRO,” Lawson said. “It was totally unrelated. There are no signs in this school of an active shooter, no signs a weapon has been fired, and no injuries to any student or faculty.”
Church Hill Police Chief Chad Mosley said investigators are still attempting to gather evidence and conduct interviews.
“All the kids are safe, we had no injuries. No injuries to staff or any person at Volunteer this morning,” said Mosley.
Mosley said the caller did not provide their name, but the call has been recorded.
Lawson said it would be safe for school to resume Wednesday.
“Absolutely it’ll be safe,” Lawson said. “We’ll have officers present, we have officers there now. We’ve briefed the faculty, they know exactly what was going on and what we did and why we did everything. Most shooters don’t call and warn anybody – they just show up.”
According to Lawson, deputies were called just before 8 a.m. Tuesday and began immediately searching the school.
A suspect has not been located and an investigation is ongoing, according to Lawson.
You can watch News Channel 11’s full special report of the briefing below:
HCSO reports the investigation is ongoing and students were evacuated to the National Guard Armory in Mount Carmel.
A student told News Channel 11 previously that an officer had entered the gym and told them there was a shooter.
“When Sergeant Dean made entry into the school, he was the first one there, [the] school hadn’t been placed on lockdown from my understanding that time and he was himself warning kids to go into lockdown,” Mosley said. “So it may have been where that came from.”
Lawson said it was undetermined what sort of safety measures would be in place at the school Wednesday.
Authorities said social media rumors hinder any sort of investigation and compared the rumors to those in the search for missing 5-year-old Summer Wells.
“Just like in the Summer Wells case, everybody pays attention to the rumors and lies, and it just hinders us,” Lawson said. “But today, we didn’t have a clue what anybody was putting out. And we don’t watch social media, we don’t mess with it. But in the days to come and speculation, even after this, you’ll have people that want to stir up stuff, but right here, we’ll tell you the straight-up: this was a hoax, was no gunfire, nobody injured. And thank God, everybody’s safe.”
Mosley said there is no reason for the community to be alarmed. Both Mosley and Lawson commended law enforcement for their response and said prior training was pivotal in the situation Tuesday morning.
Hawkins County Schools and the Church Hill Rescue Squad provided a media briefing shortly after 11 a.m., which you can watch below:
Officials from the Church Hill Rescue Squad and Hawkins County Schools said two people were transported from the school with unknown injuries that were unrelated to the report of an active shooter.
Previously, all Hawkins County Schools from Surgoinsville to East Hawkins County had been placed on lockdown. Those lockdowns were lifted shortly afterward.
The school district reports the students were taken by bus and escorted to the armory to be reunited with their parents.
An earlier post from the school district warned parents that the school had gone into lockdown and stated they should not attempt to enter the school. Parents were told to wait in their vehicles at the armory for their children.
News Channel 11’s reporters on the scene said armed officers could be seen entering the school.
The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office, Mount Carmel Police Department, Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, Kingsport Police Department, Surgionsville Police Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Church Hill Police Department all responded to the high school.
Hawkins County EMS, Sullivan County EMS, the Church Hill Rescue Squad, the Surgoinsville Fire Department, the Carter’s Valley Fire Department, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, Hawkins County EMA and the Kingsport Fire Department also responded to assist.