Some parents disappointed in notification from school system during hoax shooter call at Savannah High

Officials address response time concerns during active shooter hoax at Savannah High
Officials address response time concerns during active shooter hoax at Savannah High
Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 5:20 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 1, 2022 at 7:04 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - WTOC is breaking down the timeline of the hoax phone call claim that there was an active shooter at Savannah High School on Wednesday.

Upset parents say they weren’t notified by the school district until two hours after the district was aware of the threat.

WTOC spoke to parents who say they’re frustrated and appalled they didn’t get a call about the threat from public school officials until close to 11 a.m. Wednesday. T

The first dispatch call saying there’s a shooter at the school was at 8:36 a.m., “Reference to a 53 (shots fired) at Savannah High School, BOE has been notified. Caller advised that an active shooter was on the second floor of the school, possibly 6 students injured.”

Police responded two minutes later. Just a short time later it turned into this massive response from law enforcement.

Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools spokesperson Sheila Blanco said they first got a heads up about what they thought was an active shooter situation at 8:45 a.m. - the same time that WTOC called Blanco to ask for information about what was going on.

Here’s a dispatch call from police a minute later: “Command, we don’t need any other teams inside, we have multiple teams searching, we’re doing room-by-room now, we’ve done the preliminary clear.”

Blanco says she arrived on scene at 8:56 a.m., went through several police lines and sent the initial information back to their communications office at 9:09 a.m. for approval and parents weren’t called by a system called Brightarrow until 9:33 a.m.

*A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the Brightarrow system as PowerSchool.

But according to dispatch calls, a clear call from law enforcement was already given at 9:04 a.m. - “All rooms, stairwells, storage closets, bathrooms and classrooms have been cleared.”

Clear but there was still panic by many parents hoping to be reunited with their children.

An officer can be heard saying in the dispatch call, “We have no victims. We have no gunshot victims at this time. So, whoever that parent is hold them back.”

Blanco says campus police say the final “All Clear” was given for the school at 10:18 a.m.

In a video, Karryn Cooper, Travia Evans-Peek’s daughter, is seen sitting on the ground and scared.

She says she didn’t get a call from the school district until 10:56 a.m.

District officials says email notifications were sent out to parents at 9:33am and their parent notification system called Brightarrow delivered audio messages soon after. They add that their Brightarrow report shows that all calls were made to parents by 9:34 a.m. and a voicemail was left if a parent didn’t pick up the call.

“I’m really appalled about the fact that it was so late, and I don’t know it’s just scary. That whole situation was just crazy,” Evans-Peek said. “Thank God nothing really happened but what if those kids didn’t have phones and something did happen? None of the parents would have known what was going on until it was too late.”

Another parent echoed disappointment in the school system’s notification. The parent said she didn’t get a call until 10:56 a.m. However, she was sent an email about the situation at 9:34 a.m.

In a statement, SCCPSS officials say they’re happy with their response but there’s always room for improvement, and that district staff met to discuss their response and what went well and how they can improve.

District 3 school board member Cornelia Hall, representing Savannah High and Early College says parents have told her they’re happy with communication and she is pleased as well.

“What I think was done well was to wait until we had some verifiable information so we could tell parents exactly what was going on and what to do,” Hall said.

Savannah District 3 Alderwoman Linda Wilder-Bryan said there were parents and students frustrated over a different situation unfolding at the scene. She says the original plan was to send parents to the Pennsylvania Rec Center, or PARC.

“The parents were supposed to go to the PARC but when they jumped the fence that created a different chaotic scenario, so they had to go to Plan B,” Wilder-Bryan said.

She says parents and students were not treated fairly but she doesn’t point blame at any agency. She just wants better communication just in case a similar situation arises.

“The test run...we fell short, but it was amazing to see everybody pull together for this community,” Wilder-Bryan said.

“I’ve been on the board ten years now and this is the first time anything this traumatic has happened, but I am very pleased with the whole community’s response,” Hall said.

You can read the full statement from SCCPSS below:

“We are overall very happy with the response and communication efforts. The swift response from our law enforcement partners across the county, state and federal levels was wonderful. That said, there is always room for improvement and each situation you encounter provides lessons you can take forward to improve performance in the next. District staff already held one after-action meeting yesterday afternoon to discuss all aspects of the district’s response and there will be more to come to discuss what went well and what could be improved on.”