Police confirmed Monday that there was no shooting at Granger Elementary, after online rumors spread that a gun had been fired inside the West Valley City school and panicked parents rushed to the scene.
Granite School District on Monday afternoon described the situation as a false alarm. A teacher at the school had heard what they thought to be gunshots and called 911, the district said. But the loud noises came from a nearby classroom conducting a science experiment, the district advised.
“Everyone is safe and accounted for,” the district reported on Twitter. “We are grateful for the immediate response of the police.”
The science experiment involved model volcanoes, district spokesperson Ben Horsley said. According to district policy, teachers are supposed to let others in a school know when lessons could include loud, planned noise like that. But that didn’t happen Monday, Horsley said.
“I want to be clear: If somebody sees something or they hear something that makes them feel uncomfortable, they absolutely should report it,” Horsley said Monday afternoon. “In this particular case, it would’ve been helpful also for the reporting teacher to also notify the front office. The front office and nobody else was aware of any potential circumstance prior to police showing up in droves.”
Horsley said that communication is critical in such situations, and better communication “probably could’ve been alleviated a lot of concern on the part of parents and the community as a whole.”
Following the false alarm, he said Monday’s communication is something district officials intend to review, “not just as staff but also a reminder to the district as a whole.”
Online rumors prompt panic
Shortly before noon, there was a heavy police presence outside the school, with a helicopter flying overhead and at least 20 squad cars surrounding the neighborhood. Arriving parents and guardians gathered behind perimeter fences at the campus, asking if their children were safe.
One parent could be heard begging an officer to know if their son was OK. The officer at the time responded that he didn’t know.
Parents had raced to the school after a flurry of alerts on Ring, a security app that lets individuals post about neighborhood safety, stated that there was an active shooter at the school.
West Valley City police confirmed just after noon that no shooting had occurred. By then, some students had been evacuated as a precaution as police evaluated the reported threat.
“The district communicated as quickly as possible with parents, but were unable to verify and share certain information while police investigated,” the district said in a tweet at 12:26 p.m. The school district sent an email to parents and guardians at 12:20 p.m. with the same information released to media.
By about 12:30 p.m., police could be seen escorting some students back into the school building.
“Let’s get you in there, alright?” a police officer could be heard saying to a crying little girl as he held her hand, leading her toward the front door of the school.
“Is school over?” asked another little girl.
School resumes after false alarm
As a result of the false alarm, standard reunification protocols went into effect, according to the district. Those are activated in an emergency; it means parents can come pick up their children at any time but need to present photo ID to do so.
Parents were instructed that they can pick up their children at Redwood Swap Meet, located at 3688 S. Redwood Road, where some students had been evacuated as a precaution.
For students who were not picked up, the district said school resumed for the day. Those students were released at normal bell time later in the day.
Granger Elementary, which sits in a predominantly Latino neighborhood on the west side of Salt Lake County, had 682 students enrolled as of this fall, according to the Utah State Board of Education. Children of color make up 88% of the student population, 67% of whom are Latino.
The school was rebuilt and reopened in 2007 after the previous building was torn down and replaced with a grocery store.