The week of April 10 to April 14, the Bonita Vista High (BVH) campus experienced high levels of tension for both students and staff alike. These tensions arose after receiving the news of a threat of school shooting that was planned to occur on the BVH campus on April 14. On April 12, after students learned of this information, many had left campus and had not returned to campus the following two days.
This circumstance created panic within students, which were evident in the empty classrooms on Friday, April 14. The threat had shown the true panic in students with even the mere mention of a school shooter on campus and furthermore, the true danger of rumors.
Rumors, defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary, are stories widely disseminated with no discernible source. For BVH, rumors ranged from a gun being found in the bathroom to students being suspended that day. These rumors had found themselves traveling from one student’s mouth to another, being discussed during lunch and to their parents after school.
There are negative mental health consequences to the spread of rumors. According to the National Library of Medicine, a library of health-related issues accessible worldwide, “rumors are also associated with group polarization.” In other words, rumors cause a group of people—students—to believe a certain belief without really having any fact to bring it up. In this case, hearing a rumor about a gun being found in a campus bathroom led to multiple students discussing it and further spreading the false fact. As a result, many students left campus feeling unsafe.
In the same article, the National Library of Medicine claims the spreading of rumors results in loss of productivity. This was seen as many students were prevented from their learning and education after leaving school early on Wednesday and not going to school the following two days.
Furthermore, the spreading of rumors continued to fuel the already present anxiety in students. There was already copious amounts of stress under the possibility of a shooter on campus. The additional rumors strengthened the possibility and turned it into reality in students’ minds.
The additional rumors strengthened the possibility and turned it into reality in students’ minds.
— Maddie Almodovar
Pew Research Center, an organization dedicated to providing information on social issues, such as school shootings in a variety of demographics. Overall, more than half of students—57 percent—are afraid of the possibility of a school shooting occuring at their school while 63 percent of parents share the same concern. The already present anxiety increased by tenfold when this possibility seemed real due to the appearance of a threat on campus property, as demonstrated by the situation that took place in BVH.
Consequently, the day of the presumed school shooting, there was a significant number—1660 students—of students absent. Moreover, the school shooting had not occurred. Many students and their families chose to take the safer route and stayed home, despite the threat not following through.
The school had issued official emails. Multiple updates from BVH Principal Lee Romero about the incident, Romero also assured parents and students BVH staff’s “number one priority is the safety and well-being of their students”. There had been an increased Chula Vista police officers present on campus.
However, it is important to note that these emails have not reached home until the day after the initial threat was found. This did not help the stream of rumors that found themselves in students’ mouths and lunch discussions. It highlights the importance of direct communication between staff and students to prevent the spread of rumors.
In an email sent by Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Ed.D Moises Aguirre, Aguirre links a podcast conducted by PBS about the anxiety of false alarms and threats. The podcast features Amy Klinger from Educator’s School Safety Network, who discusses the fear and anxiety that mix together in situations where what is happening is unclear. This is exactly what had occurred on BVH’s campus, in which unnecessary panic had continued to fester in students and result in a near-empty classroom.
Although BVH followed up with students’ and their families, it had occurred after the fact. Thus, the rumors only strengthened the palpable school shooting in students’ minds despite not occurring—and resulted in hundreds of absences on April 14.