Districts respond to social media rumors
ELKHORN—An unsubstantiated social media posting warning parents, bus drivers and school districts to be on the watch for a former jail inmate who threatened to shoot school children—and then commit suicide—caused anxiety in Walworth County this week.
The end came with a terse news release from the Walworth County Sheriff's Office stating that the threats were not credible.
The social media posting featured a mug shot of Colton Syverson. It claimed that while at the Walworth County Jail, Syverson made statements that he wanted to kill himself and children at a school as a way for people to remember him.
It's unknown who posted the information.
The posting was shared on social media and among parents.
Calls started coming into the sheriff's office from parents and school districts.
On Thursday, the sheriff's office issued a statement: “While he was at our facility, he did make alleged threats, including wanting to commit suicide at a school and convincing the kids to commit suicide with him. Those threats were assessed by professionals at health and human services and were deemed not credible.”
Since Syverson's release from jail, the sheriff's office has not had any contact with him, and he is not wanted, the news release said.
School districts responded by trying to inform and reassure parents and students.
The Delavan-Darien School District put information on its Facebook page and its blog and did an “all call” alert to parents, said Mike Heine, coordinator of school-community relations for the district. E-mails were also sent to families with e-mail addresses.
Information was communicated in both Spanish and English, Heine said.
Delavan police, who also cover the village of Darien, stepped up their patrols around the schools.
Despite the extra efforts, some parents asked for their children to be released from school early.
Jason Tadlock, Elkhorn district administrator, said some parents in his district chose to remove their children early, as well.
Elkhorn school officials sent an e-mail to all parents about the issue.
Both districts were informed about the posting before it went viral and had discussed the issue with police.
The challenge for school officials is to keep parents as informed as possible without spreading unsubstantiated rumors that could cause unnecessary anxiety, Tadlock said.