A school lockdown on Tuesday in Grundy County, Tenn., was related to comments made many days prior that were revived in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, according to Sheriff Brent Myers.
By noon central time on Tuesday, Grundy County school officials said "everything was back to normal," but some parents were still worried and confused by rumors of violence that school officials characterize as the work of "fear mongers."
For the first three hours or so of school on Tuesday, officers manned schools' entrances and exits and monitored parking lot activity first at Coalmont Elementary, then at other schools, too, the sheriff said.
"It wasn't really a threat," Myers said Tuesday of the comments. "It was really a statement made about three weeks ago, and it kind of resurfaced this morning."
Myers said the comments were made by a student's family member weeks before Friday's school shootings in Connecticut.
The sheriff said folks in Grundy County, like people all over the nation, were highly sensitized to any form of threats in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings when the comments resurfaced Tuesday, triggering the lockdown.
"Everybody was just on edge," he said. "We provided a perimeter around the school and the property. We had officers at every school. We had people watching the entrances and exits and the parking lots."
A school system release on the lockdown lays the blame on "fear mongers" whose rumors were fueled by recent events.
"Sadly, in our own community, some few individuals are capitalizing on this tragedy by spreading baseless rumors of possible violence toward our own school children," the release states. "These fear mongers are little better than the deranged shooter who took so many innocent lives last week, for they intentionally spread panic at a time when we are so mindful of how vulnerable we all are."
In light of law enforcement's conclusion that no actual threats were made, school officials "have urged state and local law enforcement officials to prosecute anyone making idle threats to the fullest extent to the law," the release states.
Conversely, school officials don't want to dissuade anyone from reporting potential threats either, officials said.
"If anyone is aware of a potential threat to the schools or our children, then he or she should report his or her concerns to the sheriff's department immediately," the release states.
Officials said Grundy schools will remain in session for the remainder of the week and then will dismiss for the holidays.
Myers said his office is conducting an investigation into the nature of the comments and how the matter escalated. He said results will be turned over to the district attorney's office for a decision on whether charges will be filed.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...