WHITEVILLE, N.C. (WECT) – The Columbus County Sheriff’s Office has charged two 15-year-old boys in connection to online threats made on social media Sunday and Monday involving “clowns” and “purging” at county schools.
During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, District Attorney Jon David said the teenagers were charged with making a false report concerning mass violence on educational property, which is considered a class H felony.
Sheriff Lewis Hatcher said investigators are still looking into a copycat account that popped up Tuesday that was making similar threats.
Officials said the sheriff’s office was first made aware of the posts Monday afternoon and initiated a joint investigation with the Whiteville Police Department and the SBI to look into the matter.
Authorities went door-to-door and interviewed parents as they followed leads in the case. Michelle Tatum, spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, said the social media account in question was seized by investigators and all posts were deleted.
Tatum said a juvenile was questioned by authorities on Tuesday, but was later released and not charged.
“A tremendous amount of manpower and resources were expended identifying who was responsible for posting those messages and bringing them to justice,” said District Attorney Jon David. “Although we’re dealing with clowns, what happened is no laughing matter.”
David said the online threats created a lot of buzz on social media and made parents legitimately scared to bring their children to school.
Officials said law enforcement has increased patrols at all Columbus County and Whiteville City schools. Officers will remain vigilant to ensure the safety of students and faculty.
Kelly Jones, spokesperson for Columbus County Schools, said Beginning of Grade testing that was originally scheduled to take place Wednesday has been moved to Thursday to safeguard against excessive absences.
Officials with Columbus County Schools took to Facebook Monday afternoon and issued the following statement concerning the threats:
On Monday, September 12th Columbus County Schools and the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office launched a thorough investigation of threats made on social media concerning “clowns” and “purging.” The investigation is ongoing and the Sheriff’s Office and local law enforcement are using every available resource to find the person or persons involved.
The safety of our students is top priority. Our school system will continue to carefully monitor each student, and will be diligent about all activity occurring on or near the school grounds. In addition, local law enforcement will be on campus to help provide support to the existing school resource officers in the coming days. Our close partnership with local law enforcement enables us to provide a safe environment for all of our students and staff. We will continue to closely monitor the situation and take necessary actions as recommended.
If you have information that might assist with this investigation, please contact the Criminal Detective Division of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office at 910-640-6629.