A visit to Coral Shores High School on Friday morning found additional officers and a largely empty parking lot. JILL MIRANDA BAKER/Keys Weekly

Escalating rumors of violence between students circulated on social media on Thursday night left the halls of Coral Shores High School largely empty on Friday, May 13.

In a statement eventually released by the school at 2 p.m. on Friday, administrators said they were made aware the day before of a rumor that a student was tapping other students on the shoulder the day before, saying, “You’re safe tomorrow.”

Concerned social media posts by Coral Shores students on Thursday evening indicated that some believed a threat of a school shooting had been made. Classmates posted asking others about the validity of the threat and urging one another to be on “high alert” the next day.

As of the first few class periods on Friday morning, few students were in attendance. 

“More staff than students showed up at school today, and those students that did were called out by parents,” said Coral Shores principal Laura Lietaert.

However, according to the school and the sheriff, the perceived threat was unsubstantiated.

“No evidence was found anywhere on campus to support the social media rumors,” said Lietaert.

“We had our School Resource Officers there, and then a few extra units, just in case,” said MCSO’s public information officer Adam Linhardt. “If this alleged incident occurred, we would be there to quell it very quickly.

“At this point, it sounds like it was just a bunch of chatter or folks on social media spreading rumors. There was never any clear threat that we know of. … We have no indication that there was any broader malfeasance than this just being a rumor.” 

A post on the Coral Shores High School Facebook page at approximately 10 p.m. on Thursday night read, “Coral Shores administration and the sheriff’s office are aware of the rumors circulating about Friday the 13th. Administrators and School Resource Officers will greet students as they arrive in the morning.” A second version of the post submitted three minutes later also added, “A call will go out to all families in the morning before school.” An update to the school’s website reflected the same message.

However, several parents indicated to Keys Weekly and in the comment threads on the school’s post that they had not received any further communication before the start of school on Friday, a delay the school district attributed to a Wi-Fi outage at Coral Shores on Friday morning. 

Comments from parents and others who learned of the incident via social media demanded further communication and advocated for additional precautionary measures. “This situation definitely warranted a phone call to parents,” wrote one. “We should not rely on social media to get our information from the school regarding a possible shooter threat.”

“The lack of communication makes me feel as if I have no other choice but to keep my child home,” said another.

As a precautionary measure, the school opted to cancel its pep rally, senior meeting, and reading awards scheduled for Friday. At the time of this article’s posting, the school had not reported any issues.

In its statement released Friday afternoon, Coral Shores confirmed that Friday absences will be excused for students whose parents call the school’s attendance line.

A followup message by school officials to students and parents on Monday, May 19 said a call out with updated information was scheduled to go to parents at 6:30 a.m. But it was delayed for two hours. 

“The Blackboard system had an issue and the call did not go out at the planned time,” a message to parents read. “The rumor that was brought to administration’s attention Thursday (May 12) was investigated by school and law enforcement and no form of threat was substantiated.

“We understand that this information should have gone out to parents in the Friday morning call and we will ensure that future communication reaches parents through one or more of our main communication methods, Blackboard connect along with our Facebook and web page,” the message read. 

The administration said an investigation is still ongoing to determine where the rumor was initiated. Students and parents with any information should contact an administrator or send it through text tips at 305-432-3364. 

Anyone with information regarding this event and its origins is encouraged to contact the high school. Anonymous tips may be sent via text to 305-432-3364.

— Jim McCarthy contributed to this report.

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Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.