TikTok school shooting threat unfounded but Chicago area districts take precautions

Police say post warning of Dec. 17 attacks not credible

ByMaher Kawash and Stephanie Wade WLS logo
Wednesday, December 22, 2021
School threats sent over TikTok unfounded but stressful
While the threats of schools shootings or bombings Friday that circulated on TikTok were unfounded, the event caused students, teachers, staff and parents a lot of undue stress.

PARK RIDGE, Ill. (WLS) -- An unfounded threat of school violence spreading on the social media app TikTok prompted several Chicago area school districts to respond Friday.

Police say there is absolutely no indication the threats are credible, and by the end of the school day no violence had materialized.

But just the spreading rumors have effects on students, teachers and staff, causing large amounts of undue stress.

"We are seeing an enormous impact not surprisingly and we see that reflected in everything from the staff shortages we're seeing in schools, the level of stress, children's attendance, and the number of crisis calls unfortunately that we're getting," said Dr. Tali Raviv, clinical psychologist at Lurie Children's Hospital.

Raviv said they're seeing more and more young patients with suicide concerns, violence and other stressors that she said are manifesting in schools. A new study from the hospital found more than four in 10 kids have experienced an increase in one or more mental health symptoms in the past six months.

"I think social media absolutely plays a role and this new TikTok challenge or trend or different viral things," Raviv said. "We've seen TikTok challenges for vandalizing school property, we've seen TikTok slap a teacher challenge. And they both increase anxiety per students who are seeing these things and they certainly increase kind of a heightened awareness everyone's on edge."

Some districts like Park Ridge-Niles, Barrington, Elgin and Plainfield, to name a few, stepped up patrols as a precaution.

"This is just something where someone posted and is encouraging violence in the schools," said Tom Gadowski with Park Ridge police. "Very simple. I don't want to go any further than saying that there's an encouragement of violence."

"As frustrating as these things are, and they are very frustrating, it is critically important that parents and students feel safe," said Tom Hernandez, Plainfield Schools director of community relations.

The anonymous posts circulating online warned that schools across the country would receive shooting and bomb threats Friday. The posts also encourages students to stay home.

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Hernandez said while it's a drain on resources, not just for the school but for police as well, it's necessary to investigate and protect against every possible threat they receive.

"Gone are the days when a parent could say oh this is just kids being kids," he said. "No I'm sorry no. We can't think that way anymore. We have to take everything seriously because the law is one time that we decide to oh it's just not important, it's going to be the one time when God forbid somebody gets hurt."

Chicago Public Schools told parents in an alert, "The post is vague and not directed at a specific school, and is circulating around school districts across the country," adding, "Please do not re-share any suspicious or concerning posts on social media."

Several suburban school districts sent similar warnings.

"If the school does their part there's no need to worry," said John Davis, parent of a Main South High School student.

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The superintendent at Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 sent in his note to parents, saying there will be an increased police presence at buildings on Dec. 17.

Barrington School District 220 also notified its community of the national threats. School officials said Barrington police have confirmed the threats are unsubstantiated at this time and there is no viable threat to students or staff.

District 220 also said it will add police support, in addition to its school resource officer, over the next several days "as a precautionary measure to reassure students and staff."

TikTok says it was working with law enforcement to investigate and that it, "handles even rumored threats with utmost seriousness."

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Glenview Police Department said it is aware of the threat and encouraged "everyone to remain vigilant," but added that there is no credible information that it is related to any school in Illinois.

Glenview police said they will continue to patrol all school grounds in the area. Suspicious activity should be reported to police, the department said.

Friday morning, the Department of Homeland Security said they do not have information about credible threats to schools.

Chicago Public Schools' Full Statement Regarding Online School Threats

Dear CPS Staff, Parents, and Families,

The safety of our students and staff is our top priority, and we are writing to let you know that the District and Chicago Police Department (CPD) are aware of a viral TikTok post warning of nationwide threats that will supposedly take place on Friday, December 17, 2021. The post is vague and not directed at a specific school, and is circulating around school districts across the country.

At this time, there is no known threat to any CPS facility, but we are taking this threat extremely seriously and are working with CPD. Should any safety concerns arise, they will be investigated immediately and thoroughly following CPS protocol to ensure the safety and security of our students and staff.

Safety is a collective responsibility, and I would like to emphasize the importance of using social media responsibly. Please do not re-share any suspicious or concerning posts on social media. Instead, if you or your child see something resembling a threat, the most impactful step to take is to report it to your school immediately so that we can investigate the situation as soon as possible. If it is outside of regular school hours, please email the information to studentsafety@cps.edu.

Thank you very much for your support.

Jadine Chou
Chief Safety and Security Officer
Chicago Public Schools
Estimados colegas, padres y familias de CPS,

La seguridad de nuestros estudiantes y colegas es nuestra principal prioridad, y les escribimos para informarles que el Distrito y el Departamento de Policía de Chicago (CPD, por sus siglas en inglés) están al tanto de un post viral de TikTok que advierte sobre las amenazas a nivel nacional que supuestamente se llevarán a cabo el viernes, 17 de diciembre de 2021. El post es impreciso, no está dirigido a una escuela en particular, y actualmente está circulando por los distritos escolares de todo el país.

En este momento, no existe ninguna amenaza hacia algún edificio específico de CPS, pero estamos tomando estas amenazas seriamente y estamos trabajando con CPD. Si surgen algunos problemas de seguridad, se investigarán de inmediato y se seguirán los protocolos de CPS para garantizar la seguridad de nuestros estudiantes y escuelas.

La seguridad es una responsabilidad colectiva y me gustaría enfatizar la importancia de usar las redes sociales de manera responsable. Por favor evite compartir videos inflamatorios que aparezcan sospechosos o preocupantes en las redes sociales.

Les recordamos que estén atentos, y si usted o su hijo ven algo sospechoso o que pueda parecer como una amenaza, informe a su escuela o el departamento de policía inmediatamente para que podamos investigar la situación lo más rápido posible. Si está fuera del horario escolar regular, envíe la información por correo electrónico a studentsafety@cps.edu.

Muchas gracias por su apoyo.


Jadine Chou
Directora de Seguridad y Protección
Escuelas Públicas de Chicago

Full Statement on Circulating Social Media Information from District 207

Dear Families,

We are writing to share with you information related to messages on Tik Tok regarding national school violence that would take place on Friday, December 17. The Des Plaines Police and the Park Ridge Police departments are both aware of these nonspecific national messages being circulated. They have both indicated after investigation that these threats are not credible.

Out of an abundance of caution, there will be extra police presence at our schools tomorrow in addition to our school resource officers being at our schools as usual.

As we have shared previously, if a parent or student has information about the safety and security of the school they should call 9-1-1 or utilize the anonymous alerts system at https://www.anonymousalerts.com/mainetownshiphsd207/.

Given the number of recent social media threats locally and nationally, it is also important for parents and students to know that IF we are made aware of a credible threat against our schools, we will be diligent and act swiftly. That means involvement of the police and other authorities, notification of our families and taking all safety measures to protect students and staff in our schools. It is unfortunate that social media is being utilized in this way by a very small percentage but we will remain diligent in our efforts.
We look forward to a normal school day tomorrow as we close out the first semester of school. It has been wonderful to have students at school learning for the past 5 months. Have a wonderful break!

Dr. Mike Pressler, Maine East Principal
Dr. Ben Collins, Maine South Principal
Dr. Eileen McMahon, Maine West Principal
Dr. Anna Hamilton, Frost Academy Principal

Full Statement from Barrington School District 220 on nationwide viral TikTok post

Dear Barrington 220 Community,

Barrington 220 has been made aware of a national threat circulating on TikTok regarding gun violence in schools. More specifically, these TikTok posts seen in school districts across the country, threaten nationwide violence in schools on December 17, 2021.

Upon learning this information, district leaders contacted the Barrington Police Department. The Barrington Police Department has confirmed that these threats are unsubstantiated at this time and there is no viable threat to students or staff. No reports or posts have included Barrington 220 schools specifically.

As a precautionary measure and to reassure students and staff, in addition to our School Resource Officer, we will have added police support over the next several days as part of our standard response procedures. As they are everyday, school social workers will also be available for students who may need support.

"If you see something, say something" is a phrase that we share with our students often. We encourage parents to talk with their children about being watchful of any behaviors, including online and over social media, which would result in harm to anyone. If a student witnesses any harming behaviors it should be reported immediately. For information about reporting incidents anonymously, please visit the Safety 220 page on our district website.

While we are all aware of the positive and negative effects that social media can have on a student's life, this can be an opportunity for families to discuss the importance of internet safety, physical safety, and mental health. For additional resources, please visit the SEL/Mental Health section on our website.

The safety of our students and staff is always our top priority and we commit to offering a safe and secure educational environment.