Students at a Columbus private school were sent home early Friday afternoon after administrators heard rumors of possible gang activity that turned out to be a hoax.
Brookstone School on Bradley Park Drive went into lockdown around 1:15 p.m. after Columbus police informed school officials of a possible gang initiation at the school, headmaster Scott Wilson said. The school's 850 students were sent home a half-hour later, when administrators learned the threat might come after school.
Columbus Police Maj. Julius Graham said the threat came from an e-mail to area schools and businesses mentioning a gang initiation to take place this weekend, but the police department had not received any credible evidence that the threat was real.
The rumor didn't affect Muscogee County public schools, according to district Communications Director Valerie Fuller.
"No Muscogee schools are closing early," Fuller said at midafternoon Friday. "Someone suggested it was a private school. We definitely want to take precautions to make sure the kids are safe."
She said the district's security chief, Sonny Lollar, and his officers were keeping an eye on the schools.
Fuller said this kind of rumor sometimes surfaces just before long holiday weekends or near the end of a school year. Friday evening was the start of the long Labor Day weekend.
An employee in Northside High School's office reported that the school was taking extra precautions Friday afternoon as a result of the rumors.
Randy Robertson, the Columbus director of Homeland Security, said though the scare was an e-mail hoax, the mayor's office had received about 50 phone calls from concerned citizens.
"At this time, we don't see anything to this rumor," he said. "It's a rumor that has been going around for a while on the Internet. When it was brought to our attention earlier today, it mentioned a high school outside the region."
He said anyone who receives such an e-mail should call the Columbus Police Department, Muscogee County Sheriff's Office or the Muscogee County Marshal's Office.
"I can't stress that enough," Robertson said. "If someone gets an e-mail that causes concern, that should be their first reaction."
Robertson said the decision to close Brookstone early was up to the school.
"Each school would have to make that decision," Robertson said. "We support any administration decision to do what is best for that school."
Graham said the though gang activity was only a rumor, but the police department would be increasing their patrols of the area this weekend. Wilson said Brookstone would be cautious as well.
"There will be a heightened level of security this weekend for sure," he said.