On Friday, September 19, four North Carolina elementary schools were placed on lockdown after reports emerged that an armed suspicious person had been seen on campus. Under the hazy fog of hysteria, rumors circulated that the person in question had been carrying a gun. However, according to WITN-TV, investigators recently announced that the lockdown had been prompted by a 10 AM report by a cafeteria worker at Richlands Elementary who had seen one of the school’s teachers entering the building dressed like a pirate and wearing a plastic sword at his hip. The teacher wore the costume to celebrate “International Talk Like a Pirate Day” with students.
WCTI-TV 12 notes that the three other schools that were locked down over the teacher’s costume were Richlands High School, Richlands Primary, and Trexler Middle School. Law enforcement officers, equipped with K-9 units, descended upon all four schools, scouring the buildings for what was at the time assumed to be a suspicious person about to carry out a school shooting. A Trexler Middle School student told WITN-TV, “It was terrifying… I didn’t know what was going on … we were all huddled up in a corner.” Early rumors began to spread like wildfire, leading to the dissemination of misleading details such as reports that the suspicious person was carrying a gun and wearing camouflage pants and an olive shirt.
However, investigators could not find anyone suspicious at the schools, and an exhaustive review of surveillance video turned up no leads as well. After three hours, the lockdowns were lifted. According to WNCT-TV 9, Onslow County Schools spokesperson Suzie Ulbrich said, “We have this new psy lock system… there was an immediate lockdown done of the school and check in with all the teachers to make sure to make sure everybody was safe and secure. Law enforcement of course came to the scene.”
Onslow County Sheriff’s Office representative Jerry Morse told WCTI-TV 12, “After a thorough review of this incident, it has been determined that school personnel working in conjunction with law enforcement agencies handled the situation in a very professional manner and followed all protocols to the letter.”
On Tuesday, September 28, the Onslow County Sheriff’s Department announced that the report of a suspicious person was a case of mistaken identity, as a cafeteria worker had confused a plastic sword from a teacher’s pirate costume for a gun. Authorities concluded that the teacher was not a threat and that nothing malicious had been intended by the costume.