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Police step up presence in wake of rumored shooting threat

Published: Thursday, March 13, 2014 9:05 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, March 14, 2014 11:53 a.m. CST

ROCK FALLS – "We're dealing with a rumor gone rampant on Facebook."

That's how Rock Falls High School Superintendent Ron McCord described Thursday, when police ramped up security measures at the school in response to a shooting threat reportedly posted on Facebook.

Police had learned Wednesday of a "fake Facebook page" created by someone who made "rude and disrespectful" comments, the Rock Falls department reported in a news release Thursday morning.

The Facebook comments involved sinners, God, the devil and Matt Anderson, the Rock Falls High student who recently died as the result of what authorities are calling an accidental shooting.

According to several students, the person also stated on Facebook that he would shoot up the high school.

By the time they were made aware of the situation, though, neither police nor school officials could find such a threat in the "ramblings" that the poster had made, McCord and Police Chief Mike Kuelper said.

The school notified police on Wednesday, and "overnight, Facebook traffic grew around the rumors of a threat that we could not confirm or deny," McCord said.

Students who had commented on the poster's page were called in to help find the comment, McCord said, but they could not.

That's why officials considered the threat "unconfirmed and unsubstantiated," and why they chose not to alert parents to the situation, Kuelper and McCord said. Still, they increased the police presence at the school on Thursday.

"There was no reason to get out a blast [text alert] and get people even more worried, more scared," Kuelper said. Also, such notices tend to spur copycats, he said.

They decided "to err on the side of caution" with increased security by making the school's daily police walk-throughs longer and stepping up patrols in the area, Kuelper said, both for security's sake and to ease students' minds.

Both Rock Falls and Whiteside County officers were at and around the school before classes started Thursday morning, Kuelper noted.

Facebook was contacted earlier in the week by a concerned parent, and on Wednesday by school and police officials.

Facebook was carrying out its own security measures, which might be why the "shooting" post could not be found, Kuelper said.

For the most part, it was business as usual at the school Thursday, he said.

"The atmosphere in the school is normal, and most of the kids randomly spoken to are not concerned and are mainly irritated by what the poster is saying and disrupting their lives," the police department release said.

If and when a culprit is caught, he or she will be charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct, then police will take evidence to the state's attorney to see whether that charge can be bumped up to a felony. If convicted of the felony, the poster also could be held responsible for the costs of the extra police patrols, Kuelper said.

Deciding when and how to evaluate and respond to threats made on social media is a challenge, but those decisions must and will continue to be made on a case-by-case basis, he said.

The increased security may continue today.

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