Emails show how rumors, panic spread in hours after February Francis Scott Key High School threat

In February, Francis Scott Key High Schoolin Union Bridge received a possible threat that resulted in nearly a third of the student population not attending classes.
In February, Francis Scott Key High Schoolin Union Bridge received a possible threat that resulted in nearly a third of the student population not attending classes. (Ken Koons / Carroll County Times)

More than a month after a possible threat resulted in the absence of one-third of Francis Scott Key High School’s student population, emails obtained in a Public Information Act Request filed by the Carroll County Times show a timeline of about 24 hours riddled with confusion and fear as rumors spread on social media.

Around 10 a.m. Feb. 20, administrators became aware of a possible threat, an incident which later that evening was investigated by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and deemed not credible.


Still, as information from the school system was scarce over the afternoon and evening hours, emails from concerned parents rolled in to FSK Principal Joseph Guerra and other Carroll County Public Schools administrators. No official word came from the school system on the matter until the following morning — after 7 a.m. Feb. 21 — by which point 305 of the 907 FSK students had decided to stay home.

The delayed release of information appears to be due to an inability of FSK staff to reach those who would send a message out to the school community until the next morning.

This all unfolded about one week after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, leaving parents in the Carroll community on edge.

Details uncertain as day ticks on

An email from FSK Assistant Principal Wesley Winters broke down how the incident played out during the school day. Winters sent the summary email to Guerra at 5:56 p.m. Feb. 20.

“I received an email Mod 2 from Ms. Meininger that [redacted] wanted to speak to me. I spoke to [redacted] around 10:00. [Redacted] told me and provided me in written statement that one day last week (she didn’t know the day) she head(sic) [redacted] in the hallway telling people that on his last day of his senior year (he’s currently a [redacted]) he was going to bring a gun to school. If that didn’t work he would then put a bomb at his graduation. I asked [redacted] if anyone else heard this and she said no. I asked who she was with and she told me [redacted],” the email reads.

Sheriff Jim DeWees said the sheriff’s investigation determined that a threat made by a Francis Scott Key High School student Tuesday was deemed not credible and Carroll County Public Schools would be dealing with the student. He also said there was law enforcement presence at FSK Wednesday.

In his email, Winters continued to outline his conversations. Winters next spoke with the student who allegedly made threats, and asked the student to tell him about conversations he had been having about his senior year.

The student told Winters, according to the email, that he was going to do “burnouts” with his car his last day. Burnouts are when someone keeps their vehicle stationary and spins its wheels, causing the tires to heat up and smoke.

When asked if he planned anything else, the student said no, according to Winters’ email.

Winters also asked the student if he’d been discussing the shooting in Florida with people at school and he said “no,” though the student said another student had supposedly tagged him on Instagram with a picture of the Florida school shooter. Winters, according to the email, asked the student again if he had said anything about bringing a gun to school and the student said “no,” and also said “it bothers him that every time something happens somewhere else, these thing[s] get said about him.”

At the beginning of lunch, which is around 11 a.m., Winters wrote in his email that someone else approached him about the student, and Winters asked if she had any more information. The female said “no.”

Another teacher emailed Winters at lunch and said a student had mentioned the concern over the possible threat, and Winters brought that student in though there was no new firsthand information, according to the email.

After lunch, around 1 p.m., Winters said in his email he brought the original student who heard the alleged threat back to his office and asked her if she was 100 percent certain that she heard another student say those things.

“She said no, but she knew he was talking about the last day of school. I asked her about the ‘burnouts’ and she asked if that was some sort of bomb. I explained what burnouts are and she said she wasn’t sure what she heard, but it could’ve been that,” Winters wrote in his email. “I then again asked her if she was 100% certain that she heard him say the staff about the gun and/or the bomb and she said she was not 100% certain.”

Carroll County Public Schools announced March 20 an update to its security plan, which called for placing deputies at “various schools throughout the county.” The deputies are to interact with students and faculty, and also act as a deterrent for criminal activity.

Duane Williams, supervisor of school security and emergency management, previously told the Times he was informed about the alleged threat at around 4:30 p.m. Feb. 20. Director of High Schools Kim Dolch previously told the Times she was made aware of the situation around 3:30 or 4 p.m.


Williams previously said the information was turned over to the sheriff’s office, which began to interview witnesses. Around 8:30 or 9 p.m., Williams said, detectives interviewed the student who supposedly made the threat, which was determined to be not credible. Williams said he was informed of this around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Delayed information

Parents were not informed of the situation officially until about 7 a.m. Feb. 21, and weren’t told the situation was handled and had been deemed not credible until after 10 a.m. that day. Classes start at 7:30 a.m.

While information was not formally sent until the following morning, emails obtained in the PIA show a plan to send an email to the school community the night before.

Guerra sent an email at 9:57 p.m. Feb. 20 to Williams and Dolch with a draft email to send to parents.

“Please see the draft message below. Any suggestions? Since the case is still ‘open’ I am reluctant to say to the community that the threat is not credible, even though they are saying it is not credible. Should we send the message below out tonight, and should we include the part that it has been investigated and determined it is not a credible threat? Please advise. The parent emails keep rolling in at a good pace,” Guerra’s email reads.

At 10:04 p.m., Williams responded to Guerra, and suggested calling Dolch. At 10:06 p.m., Guerra responded and said he spoke with Dolch on the phone, who agreed that they should send out the email to parents.

The draft email read: “Good evening Francis Scott Key High School community. This afternoon, we received specific reports and concerns of a potential threat of violence toward our school. This information was immediately reported to the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, upon receiving it. The Sheriffs Office is currently investigating these reports to determine their credibility. We take any and all reports of potential threats of violence toward our school very seriously and the safety of the students is our top priority.”

Following the exchange with Williams and Dolch, Guerra sent an email to Susan Hook, an office manager at FSK, asking her to send the message to the FSK community.

At 10:50 p.m., Guerra sent another email, this time to Lydia Fine, an FSK main office secretary, asking if she could send the email to the school community.


“I am sending this on the off-chance you are awake and are checking your email…..and can send a school messenger from home,” he wrote.

At 11:20 p.m., Fine responded and said she tried calling Hook, but it went to voicemail. Fine said she would send the message in the morning.

Guerra responded at 11:25 p.m., and said he would possibly revise the message in the morning.

Rumors fill social media

As the school system and law enforcement worked to investigate the credibility of the threat, fear began to spread on social media sites.

A Snapchat began to circulate online, and screenshots of it were sent in multiple emails to CCPS administrators.

“Everyone that heard about [redacted] today needs to talk to their parents and teachers as soon as possible. This is no longer a joke or something to tease him about; this kid actually has the capability of killing you or your friends,” the Snapchat reads. “We NEED to do something as a collective to get him expelled or suspended. So anybody that can or has information, please send emails and calls to the school as soon as you can.”

Another version of the Snapchat includes an additional post, where an unknown individual says they are on the student’s bus, and will “pin him down” if need be.

“I’m on his bus. If anything seems off, the others and I will investigate. We’ll pin him down and frisk that f----- if we have to. If we find any contraband, we will stop the bus and secure him. As a student of this school it’s my duty to help,” the Snapchat reads.

Another post that shows a male — who appears to be the student who made the alleged threat though emails obtained in the PIA don’t specify — grinning with what appear to be gun shells in his mouth and reads “I’m in stopable (sic)!” was also sent to school officials.

Winters emailed Williams, Dolch and Guerra at 8:03 p.m. Feb. 20 passing along the images.

“Attached are two images from another parent email I just received. The one is the Snapchat we’ve already seen. Not sure how old or new the one of [redacted] with the shells is,” he wrote in his email.

Lack of communication spurs fear

As information was reposted on social media, students shared the rumors with parents, who took to reaching out to the school system.

Emails poured into school officials both on Feb. 20 and Feb. 21, and were sent to administrators from CCPS Superintendent Stephen Guthrie to Williams to Guerra.

Parents mention concern over the posts on social media and fear of a similar event like the shooting in Parkland. Some went as far as reaching out to law enforcement, in addition to their contact with the school system.

Many of the parents also said they would not send their child to school until the issue was dealt with.

“There was also messages on social media from other students asking for us to please contact authorities because this kid will do it,” one parent wrote. “Until the school can address this matter and I know my children are safe they will not be in class … This is not something I take lightly and my girls should not be afraid to go to school. I can only pray that the appropriate actions are taken.”

At least one parent took issue with the lack of communication coming from the school system in the hours that followed the alleged threat.

The parent said in their email that teachers, parents and staff should have been made aware of the incident.

“While I understand you do not want to create mass fear, parents should have this information to be able to talk with their children and make the decision as to whether or not they want to send their child to school,” the parent wrote. “Can you advise if there will be a police present at the school tomorrow?”

Another parent, in addition to mentioning the alleged threat, also brought up concerns about safety and access to schools.

The parent asked about protocol in dealing with letting people into the schools, and cited concern over the “ease of entry” in buildings.

On a Monday morning at 10 a.m., three Carroll County Times staffers went to three different Carroll County Schools to check security protocols in the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting that occurred two weeks ago.

“I have entered the school a few times during school hours and generally I can hit the buzzer and be let right in,” the parent wrote. “Yes I look fairly non-threatening, and no I wasn’t carrying a handbag, or anything that could make one think I was hiding firearms, but they can be concealed and this scares me. I’m never asked over the intercom why I am there and I’m never asked to show my ID.”

One week after the FSK incident, three members of the Times staff went to check school security and found a similar deviation in procedure.

Law enforcement involvement

The sheriff’s office investigated and deemed the threat not credible the evening of Feb. 20. On the following day, they had an increased presence at FSK.

Williams previously said he was informed of the sheriff’s office’s findings at about 9:30 p.m. Feb. 20.

An email from Williams to Dolch and Guerra sent at 7:35 p.m. Feb. 20 said he had to ask the sheriff’s office to send someone to the student’s house.

“I am thinking it would be wise to send something out. I would like to know a little more. They initially didn’t want to send someone from CID [Criminal Investigations Division] out to the suspects (sic) house. I had to press the issue. That was about 6:40 — I have not heard back yet,” Williams wrote.

When asked about the email, Sheriff Jim DeWees said in a text message he was not familiar with any issues regarding his office’s response.

“We received the complaint, responded, investigated and unsubstantiated it in a very timely manner,” he said via text.

An incident report dated Feb. 20 shows deputies received a call from FSK at 5:15 p.m. Deputies spoke with administrators who said students heard a student made statements regarding shooting up the school on his last day or bringing a bomb to graduation, according to the report.

The Major Crimes Unit was notified and responded, according to the report.

While investigating the alleged threat, there were numerous calls made to 911 reporting the rumored threat, according to the report.

Detectives responded to the address of the original complainant, who said she had only heard a “third part account of the threat and did not hear [redacted] make the statement,” according to the report. Detectives spoke with more than 10 callers, though none could provide detailed information, and could only recite the rumor.


The numerous social media posts were also based off the rumor, and not firsthand accounts, according to the report.

“Investigators responded to [redacted] address and questioned him regarding the rumors. [Redacted] denied making any such statements and advised he did not know who would make up the information. [Redacted] was told he could not return to school on 2/21/18, as requested by school staff,” the report reads. “At this time there have been no witnesses come forward an confirm that [redacted] actually made the statements. This information was provided to Duane Williams who advised that due to the numerous calls to multiple jurisdictions regarding the threat, the school system would be putting out a statement advising the threat is not believed to be credible at this time.”