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Active Shooter, Bomb Threat, or Just Rumor

There’s an active shooter at South Carroll High School!!! God, I hope Eamon is safe! What can we do!!?”

That is what I heard through my wife’s sobbing when I picked up the phone at 2.48 on March 20, 2014.
As my son had played “Amazing Grace” on violin for the grieving families of the two victims of the Columbia Mall active shooting just two months earlier, my mind went into full alert overdrive, my vision narrowed, and my hands began to sweat.
“How do you know there is an active shooter?! Who told you?”

“Kim.” She said.

Now I was even more alarmed. Kim is the mother of my son Eamon’s girlfriend. She also works for the Carroll County School system…so…she would know, right?
“OK. Try to calm down. Has Eamon texted you.”
“Yes. He said they are on Code Red and in full lockdown.”
Now my blood pressure went even higher. Code Red meant it was not an exercise.
“Alright. I’ll leave work after I text Eamon. I’ll call you once I hear from him. OK? Try to stop crying and stay ready.”
“OK” she answered, and continued to sob.
I brought up the police scanner app on my phone and dialed into the Carroll County feed. I knew that they had likely gone to a secure channel, but it was another potential source of information.
If Eamon sent a text to Robin, then I should be able to text him. I thought about what I could say to him in this situation that would help. I brought up the text feature on my phone, punched the mic, and began to text Eamon. Here are those text messages. Dad (me) texts are flush left. Eamon’s are indented.
“What’s the code red 4?” 2:41 PM
“Is it an active shooter?” 2:41 PM
            “They haven’t told us I heard it’s a bomb threat but it might be a rumor.” 2:42 PM
“If so, stay out of the hallways and stay out of the doorways.” 2:43 PM
[I had taken an active shooter class from the Carroll County SWAT Team just three months ago. That was their advice based on a number of incidents they had studied. Shooters have an easy line of sight to target victims if they are in the doorway or hallway.]
            “We have to stay in class.” 2:43 PM
“Keep texting.” 2:44 PM
“Listen to your police scanner app.”  2:46 PM I had him install a police scanner app and I was hoping he would have some channel to the outside world.
            “Apparently the police are here now.” 2:49 PM
            “The cops are making sure the inside and outside of the school is clear.” 3:19 PM
“Barricade the door if there’s an active shooter in the building and barricade the door.” 3:22 PM
“Text to everyone in the other classrooms tell them to barricade the doors if there’s an active shooter.” 3:23 PM
“Confirm you received this message.” 3:23 PM
            “Yes where did you find that out [about the active shooter]?” 3:24 PM
“Kim told mom.” 3:27 PM
“Turn your phone ringer off so you don’t attract the shooter.” 3:28 PM
At this point I was in my car driving up Route 27 that would take me from Germantown, MD where I work through Howard County and then to Carroll County to his school. As it was early afternoon, I did not anticipate much traffic. Unfortunately, the traffic was heavy.
Stuck in traffic, I phoned my friend, Pat Rockinberg, who is the mayor of Mt. Airy, my home town. He is usually very well informed. I had taken the active shooter class at the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Company with him. We have created the Emergency Operations Plan, Continuity of Operations Plan, and emergency supplies for the town over the past four years. He is very knowledgeable and very connected to the emergency management community and to the families in my home town.
“Pat…what have you heard?”
“Just that South Carroll is on Code Red.”
“I’ve been told it’s an active shooter. Have you been told that?”
“Who told you that?”
“Eamon’s girlfriend’s mother works for the school system in a Middle School. She said she heard it from someone at South Carroll and she called Robin. Robin is so upset she’s a mess. Kim heard it from someone in her office that was getting information from someone at South Carroll.”
“She’s not the only one. I’m getting calls from a lot of people who are a mess.”
“Do you have anything solid?”
“No. I’ve been calling the State Police and they’re not returning my calls. I’m monitoring Facebook and Twitter but still nothing.”
“Yeah. I hear ya. The school has sent out gibberish messages about the lock down but no real information. Let me call Robin back and I’ll get back to you.”
I called Robin and she still insisted on the active shooter theory.
Here was my dilemma. My wife is one of the “Football Moms.” During football season, they had a great support system. In other words, their Moms intelligence network, until now, was impeccable. If my wife came out with something at dinner she heard from a Football Mom, it was true. Even our son Eamon was frustrated that she would know things before he did. It became a source of humor at the dinner table many a night.
My wife trusted her and I trusted her. All her information prior to this incident was correct. She had a proven track record.
As the school kept issuing gibberish messages with lots of legalese, but no real facts or information, parents were relying on each other to fill in the gaps.
And that is the danger.
Think of all the nonsense, cockamamie theories that “explain” how the Malaysian 777 disappeared. Major networks with huge research staffs and well-paid anchors repeat those uninformed theories 24/7. Why would the parents of an average American high school be any different?
“We’re all in the back of the class.” 3:34
“Pray stay calm text everyone else to barricade their doors.” 3:36 PM
“Finally got the prerecorded message from South Carroll saying you were in a lockdown about time.” 3:38 PM
“Pat Rockinberg and Scott Strong [a Councilman] and I are on our way as are others.” 3:38
            “Apparently the school received a threatening phone call at 2:18.” 3:41 PM
“Be confident the sniper who gave us our training for the active shooter will be able to cap this guy quickly.” 3:41 PM
            “I’m not sure it’s a shooter.” 3:44
With that, I had an adrenalin dump. Ever since my wife’s tearful phone call, I had assumed that this was an active shooter situation and my senses went into hyperdrive. 
But Eamon was on the ground in the event reporting it was not. 
I had to trust him, now, regardless of what Kim had told Robin.
When I asked Robin that evening about how that phone call with Kim went, she replied, “We both cried and then composed ourselves. She was worried about Jordon. I was worried about Eamon.”
“You might be right. Pat said there was a threat of violence from the call.” 2:54 PM
“State Police just told me it was only a bomb threat.” 4:04 PM
            “They’re taking classrooms to the gym one by one.” 4:12 PM
“I’ll feed Sidda [our dog] and take her for a walk.” 4:15 PM
            “Okay. Thank you.” 4:34 PM
As I continued into Carroll County on Route 27, God smiled on me because I noticed an unmarked Maryland State Trooper in the car next to mine. I rolled down my window and gestured for him to do the same.
“Good afternoon, Sir. What’s the latest on the South Carroll situation?”
“There’s been a bomb threat there.”
“Just a bomb threat? No active shooter?”
“Thank you very much.”
I immediately called Robin and Pat and informed told them what the Trooper just told me. Robin stopped crying. Pat and I agreed we should not go to the school as we would just get in the way.
“Do you need a ride home?” 5:20 PM
            “I’m not sure if they’re going to let us take our cars.” 5:26 PM
“Your mother said they were not going to let you take your cars.” 5:27 PM
“Did they pat you down yet?” 5:27 PM
            “No. We haven’t been taken to the gym yet.” 5:29 PM
“Your mother told me you all had to be patted down and then you weren’t allowed to take your car soon so you either need to get a ride from a friend or I’ll come get you.” 5:32 PM
            “Okay I’ll let you know when I get to the gym.” 5:37 PM
“WBAL just said they would release you in half an hour.” 6:15 PM
“We’re allowed to drive home but thanks for waiting.” 6:39 PM
“Okay.” 6:42 PM
Just when I thought it was all over, Robin received call from another Football Mom around 10:30 PM. After she hung up, she had that worried look again and said, “The person who called the six threats to the school and to the Sheriff’s Office also called a Commissioner. Sharon heard this when standing around.”
“How do you know? Which Commissioner?”
“Not sure. But Sharon wants to know if we are keeping Eamon home tomorrow.”
“Let me check with our commissioner. This sounds like another rumor.”
Here is the text of the email I wrote to our commissioner and what he emailed back.
The latest I just heard I’m checking with you. A friend of my wife said, “One of the Carroll County Commissioners received a call making threat like the ones made several times to the school today.”
Have you heard anything about this? 
No threats to me.
Today, multiple threats were received by officials threatening harm to our students at SCHS.
The situation became more complicated when a subsequent threat suggested the possibility of harm to students if an evacuation was attempted.
There was no active shooter, but bomb threats were taken seriously. Schools are open tomorrow with an elevated law enforcement presence.

Official Version of Events
Here is the official Carroll County Sheriff’s Office press release version of the event.
“Threat at South Carroll High School not credible”

Winfield, Carroll County, Maryland; March 20, 2014 — At approximately 2:18pm, Carroll County Sheriff’s deputies, along with the Maryland State Police and the Sykesville Police Department, responded to South Carroll High School for the report of a threat that was received by telephone. In conformance with school procedures, the school was placed on lockdown. The threats were repeated in at least six additional calls, one of which was directed to the Maryland State Police Barrack in Westminster. The threats included language that suggested there would be a shooting and chaos at South Carroll High School, prompting responding police to establish a perimeter of the building. Based upon the available information, Sheriff’s Office and School officials agreed to delay the school buses, re-routing them to the middle and elementary school routes before having them return for the high school students. 


Tactical and K-9 teams from the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, Maryland State Police, and numerous regional area law enforcement partners all responded to assist with the search of the building and to ensure the safety of the students and staff. Unrelated to the threats, one female student was found in possession of personal use quantities of marijuana and has since been charged.
Investigators from the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office are in the process of following up on all available leads. While they will continue to search out the person responsible for this incident, this threat does not appear to be credible at this time.
There were no injuries associated with this incident. South Carroll High School will resume classes tomorrow. The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and Maryland State Police will be providing additional patrols at Carroll Schools tomorrow. 
The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office investigation continues…. Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Office at 410-386-5900, or the Carroll County TIPS hotline at 1-888-399-8477.

Now, that is a very reviewed, factual view of the event. And law enforcement did an outstanding job of responding to this event, securing and protecting a large number of high school students, and methodically checking all classrooms, closets, rooms hallways, doorways, vehicles, and  the woods nearby for a shooter or explosives.
They were great and I owe them a debt I cannot repay.
But this summary of events was released at 10:00 PM through the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office. South Carroll High School administrators and the Carroll County Superintendent never transmitted it to parents. So, it was only read by those who, like me, found it on the Carroll Fire Wire on Facebook after a search in Twitter under “South Carroll High School Code Red.” 
More dangerous, neither parents nor students were informed during the event of what was happening.
The Carroll County Schools Superintendent sent out a letter he following day stating that he followed “procedures” and did not notify the parents until they had all the facts.
Here’s the clear and present danger of the Superintendent’s approach.

In the meantime, people can die due to that huge information gap.
Had that been a real event, law enforcement, fire companies and other professionals would need to do their job unimpeded. Because parents heard nothing from school officials, many flocked to the school.
Had a message been issued by the school asking parents not to go to the school, most parents would have listened and those who need to care of the bad guy could have done their job.
Also, had the school authorities informed parents and students of the actual calls, both parents and students would have had facts on which to act, rather than rumors.
So, most people were still getting most of their information, and misinformation, from their friends and their kids.
There has to be a better way to inform parents or the public in general during these emergencies. We have the social media tools to be able to do so. We need to use them better.
Routine, Inadequate School Auto-messages
I won’t repeat the auto-messages we eventually received from school administrators because they were useless. They were the same dry messages you receive from them when schools are closed due to inclement weather delivered in the same computer voice. They are written down in their procedures, approved by administrators and lawyers, and convey little that is useful when the event is going down and the need to inform the parents is paramount.
Recommendation: Rather than schools sending out prewritten, auto-programmed messages, these well-compensated public school superintendant’s and administrators could provide REAL INFORMATION.  This will help to hold down the parent panic and the creative rumors that fill the information void.
Here’s an example. Many parents drove to the school as soon as they heard there was a Code Red. This could have been dangerous if it was a real event. The school administrators could have released a message informing parents to go to the nearby football field where they could monitor the situation but not get in the way of first responders.
Also, those school administrators knew it was bomb threats and not an active shooter because they received the threats and knew early on there was no active shooter. Rather than repeatedly saying in their messages that there was a Code Red, they could have specified that they received multiple bomb threats and were investigating. This would have helped end the speculation about an active shooter and other rumors that were spreading quickly.
Lessons Learned for Other Parents
·       Teach your children well. Active shooters, terrorist attacks, in addition to the other ageless natural and man-made disasters, are a reality. Teach your children to be aware, react and think for themselves, have a plan, and be ready to be innovative and creative to deal with the current reality that even the best plan cannot possibly cover.
·         Understand the power of text messages. My wife, son, and I, as well as most parents and high school students involved in this one, communicated via text messages. Know and understand the power of a text message to inform, save, help, teach, and reassure. Or, suffer the consequences when it is full of rumors, half-baked ideas, and misinformation.
·         Make sure your children have a cell phone charger in their phone and their backpack. They can only communicate if the cell phone is charged. With an extra charger in their backpack and their car, they are better able to recharge their cell phone as the hours pass. has very good external batteries for cell phones and car lighter chargers, but they are also available at many electronics stores and online.
·         I understand the need for official school messages that are crafted, debated, and administratively and legally approved in advance. However, in the heat of the event and especially early on, there is a critical need for FACTS, real facts, to inform and obviate the natural human tendency to invent rumors to explain an emergency. School administrators need to be aware that their lack of communication inflames the emergency rather than improving it.
·         Consult a second and third source for all facts and rumors. My wife was acting on information from a trusted source when she called to tell me there was an active shooter at the school. When I checked with my son and the Maryland State Trooper, they had different information. Thank God, in this case anyway, my son and the Trooper were correct and my wife was wrong. That may not be the situation the next time.
·         Download a police scanner app to your cell phone BEFORE an event. They usually include EMT, fire, rescue, and other channels as well. Although they will often go to a secure channel in an emergency (bad guys listen in, too), you may have another source of information to monitor events and to help you decide what to do. 
·         Use Twitter’s power to find out information in real time. Some of the best information I received was by entering “South Carroll Code Red” in Twitter. As in past emergencies I’ve worked, Twitter is a valuable source of real information in real time. Now with photos, you can read about and view an event and react to it faster. For example, here a teenager  holds a sign that says, “Feed us.” It went viral on Twitter.
·         When I asked my son what went on the day after the event, he answered in typical teenager fashion with one word, “Nothing.” So I asked, did they catch the guy who did this?” “No. He disguised his voice.” So, sadly, the bad guys know how to use technology…and how to use it is a very bad, life-ending, way.
The reality is that we live in the world where there are, God help us, school shootings, active shooters, and bombings. There never was and never will be a completely safe world, country, or neighborhood. We have to make sure our children know how to deal with that world, as much as they know how to say their prayers, balance a check book, eat healthy, enjoy healthy relationships with good friends, and learn how to support themselves.
Take a few minutes to hug your beautiful children tonight. I realized how blessed I am when I watched my wife caress my sons back and kiss his cheek at dinner as she had tears in her eyes. Remember that loving them and raising them right involves preparing them for the reality of this world as we find it, not as we would like it to be.
Then get them ready.

The Guy Who Called in the Threats

A guy named Timothy Edgar Baker was arrested for calling in the threats. Like arsonists who like to set fires and then show up at the burning building they set ablaze, Mr. Baker went to South Carroll High School after he made his vicious threats. He took pictures on his cell phone and then posted them on his Facebook page. I kid you not.
The school system never sent an explanation home with my son, never told them at school what happened, never communicated anything to the parents. Instead, the Carroll County School Superintendent stood behind law enforcement at the press briefing. At the end of the briefing, he mumbled something  about how difficult the memories are for the students.

This lack of information and communication has to end. It is not serving the interests of the students, their parents, the community, or the future. I’m not sure if school superintendents and school principals fear lawsuits if they give out the wrong information, suffer the usual bureaucrats fear of taking action and do nothing instead, or what it is. But, it has to end. Children’s lives are at stake and they continue to operate in the same routine when an active shooter or bombing is about the most non-routine situation you can ever encounter.

Here is the best of the many stories that were written about this bizarre episode and the bizarre individual who set it in progress.,0,7417732.story


The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office has charged Timothy Edgar Baker, of Mt. Airy, with making the threats to South Carroll High School March 20.
Col. Phil Kasten, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said at a news conference Tuesday that Baker said in his calls that the school would “be a Columbine-like incident.”
South Carroll High School was locked down for about 4 1/2 hours March 20 after multiple calls were made to the school and local police around the time of dismissal that threatened “shooting and chaos” at the Sykesville high school.
No one was injured and no weapons were found at the school.
“All of the threats that were made were found and determined to be a hoax,” Kasten said.
According to court documents, phone calls to school administrators said a friend of the caller’s was “mentally unstable” and was planning to shoot students.
The caller then said the suspect was going to “shoot every [expletive] kid that comes out of your school” and “call the police, they will get shot too,” court documents state.
Kasten said that six calls to the school and police originated from the same phone number. He said Baker was arrested Monday after a search of his home.
Baker told police that he and acquaintances “thought it would be fun” to see the police response to South Carroll, according to Kasten.
Kasten would not say if the Sheriff’s Office anticipates more arrests in the case, but said the investigation is ongoing and additional charges might be filed.
According to court documents, Baker sat in a nearby vehicle watching the police response to South Carroll.
Court documents also state that Baker knew of the phone calls from his phone, but said they were made by friends.
It was only after the calls had been made that Baker demanded his phone back, according to court documents.
After receiving an anonymous phone tip pointing them to Baker, police were able to connect him to the phone calls using information provided by, a website offering Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services and Pinger, a texting and calling app for smartphones, court documents state.

Through Pinger, detectives were able to identify the IP address associated with the calls to South Carroll, leading them to Baker’s home in the 2600 block of Walston Road in Mt. Airy.

Baker is facing multiple charges and is being held at the county detention center without bail, Kasten said.
Baker is facing charges of making a false statement concerning a destructive device, telephone misuse, false statement to a law enforcement officer, school disturbance, arson/threat, CDS: possesion of paraphernalia, possession of marijuana less than 10 grams, reckless endangerment, and conspiracy.

State’s Attorney Jerry Barnes said those arrested “will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of available law.”

“This type of crime will absolutely not be tolerated in Carroll County,” he said.
Barnes said his office will also seek full restitution in the case, which currently stands in excess of $10,000.
Officials said they expect that figure to rise as the case is further investigated.
A preliminary hearing for Baker has been scheduled for April 30, according to electronic court records.[email protected]

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