Officials: School violence rumors untrue

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Sheriff’s office beefs up presence today

By Mike Wright

Citrus County parents already jittery from last week’s school shooting in Connecticut flooded schools and the sheriff’s office with phone calls Thursday, relaying worries about rumors of potential violence today.

Sheriff’s and school district officials took the rumors seriously, with investigators determining they were without merit, 

representatives for both agencies said.

The sheriff’s office will have increased presence at schools today, sheriff’s spokeswoman Heather Yates said.

Schools throughout the county have a half-day session before the two-week winter break.

Some parents said they planned to keep their children home today, the one-week anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 first-graders, four teachers, and the school’s principal and guidance counselor.

The Citrus County School District planned prerecorded automated phone calls to parents Thursday evening from Superintendent of Schools Sandra “Sam” Himmel to assure them that the rumors are false.

“There is absolutely no credible threat to the safety of our students at this time,” Himmel’s recorded message said.

It added: “However, as a precautionary measure, the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office will have an increased presence at all Citrus County schools tomorrow. Please stress to your children to be responsible and act accordingly.”

Yates and Mike Mullen, assistant superintendent of schools, said many of the 

rumors were discovered on personal Facebook pages and then relayed to authorities.

Yates said investigators were able to track the rumors to individual students, who denied planning to carry out a violent act or even telling someone they were going to do that.

The schools have been in a heightened state of awareness throughout the week, with parents and educators on edge following the Connecticut tragedy.

Plus, Mullen said, some people are caught up in the Mayan calendar that shows the end of the world occurring Dec. 21, 2012.

Yates and Mullen said there is no safety factor that they’re aware of to cause parents to keep their children home from school today.

“We have taken this very, very seriously and so has the school district,” Yates said. “We would never put children in harm’s way. Our agency believes this information is false and not credible.”

Mullen said schools are not excusing students for the day in response to the rumors. However, he added principals often grant excused absences to students whose parents provide written reasons for their absence.

Mullen said he doesn’t know whether the rumors will impact attendance.

“When it comes to their own children,” he said, “that’s a decision the parents have to make.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.