METHUEN – A hoax social media post threatening a school with the initials MHS and depicting several guns set off a firestorm of concern in Methuen Sunday night.
But the threat, which police determined was fake, ended up being directed at a school with the same letters, Monticello High School, hundreds of miles away in Virginia, and not Methuen High, Methuen police Chief Joseph Solomon said.
The post, made on the photo-sharing social media app Snapchat, originated in Virginia but made it up to Methuen through people who are friends between the two states within the app, Solomon said.
It reads: “Don’t go to school tomorrow @MHS. Students… Loaded up bout head out” in text layered over a photo of several guns.
“Some girl from Virginia shared it on her Snapchat and had a friend here. That friend shared it, shared it in a Snapchat group and from there it just exploded,” Solomon said.
Believing the threat pertained to Methuen High, those who saw the post here began sharing it -- not to perpetuate the message, but as a warning, the chief said.
The message “spread like wildfire” through the community Sunday night, Solomon said.
“Students took it so serious they took it to their parents and then the parents called the police department,” Solomon said.
The department was made aware of the possible threat about 7:40 p.m. and was quickly inundated with calls and Facebook messages from concerned parents, the chief said.
“We have over 50 phone calls in, I lost track of how many notifications on Facebook,” Solomon said.
Police immediately began investigating the fake threat, tracing it back person-by-person to determine its origin. They determined the post originated in Virginia and was not a credible threat to Methuen High School.
School officials released a statement through the high school's Twitter account Sunday night: "All Methuen High School families have been communicated with. There is no cause for concern at Methuen High School."
The school will open as scheduled Monday morning.
Solomon said in a press release that he’s “extremely happy and proud that the students notified their parents of this post,” who then turned around and contacted police.
He added in an interview with The Eagle-Tribune: “I’ve never ever seen that many messages come in, so I think all the education we’re doing is working.”
A juvenile has been detained by the Albemarle County Police Department in Virginia for posting the threat, which officials there consider to be a hoax as well, according to a news report provided by Solomon.
Methuen police are not charging anyone locally in connection with the incident, Solomon said.
Follow Lisa Kashinsky on Twitter @lisakashinsky.