School districts in Maine and across the nation warned parents and students of possible threats on Friday as part of an apparent challenge going viral on the social media app TikTok.
A threat led at least one Maine school department, Lewiston Public Schools, to cancel classes, but numerous others kept school in session Friday while increasing security and asking students or teachers who heard anything alarming to report it.
Police were called to Fairmount School in Bangor after a student reported finding a written threat, Bangor School Department spokesperson Ray Phinney said. But police found that threat to not be credible and classes were not disrupted, he said. It is the second threat the school has seen in three months.
In Bangor, community resource officers from the Bangor Police Department were making the rounds in all of the district’s schools on Friday. While the number of officers didn’t increase, the officers don’t usually have a presence at every school in the city each day, Phinney said.
Attendance was about the same as it had been the rest of the week, Phinney said.
The school department made posts on several platforms and emailed parents Thursday night to say there were no credible threats and that school would be in session.
“I’m always of the belief that it is better to communicate more than less,” Phinney said.
The nationwide TikTok challenge came on the heels of a shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan on Nov. 30 that killed four and injured seven. This week also marked the ninth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, the deadliest mass shooting at a K-12 school in American history.
TikTok is widely used by students. While most posts on the app are not nefarious, it caused some trouble earlier in the year when Bangor High School found itself part of a nationwide phenomenon in which students filmed themselves destroying or stealing items in school bathrooms.
In Lewiston, the school department canceled all classes as a precaution after a threat to Lewiston Middle School had been “identified and isolated” with the help of police, according to a department Facebook post
Superintendent Jake Langlais said Friday around 4 p.m. that the school department had worked with police to investigate multiple posts or images. All were deemed not credible.
The department canceled classes after a picture of a firearm was posted on social media with a specific threat to a Lewiston student. Police visited the student who posted the threat, and located a firearm. However, there is no evidence to prove that the student posted the threat.
All students connected to the incident are suspended until the department knows more, Langlais said.
“I don’t know if Tik Tok played into any motivations or not,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to be that exclusively.”
In neighboring Auburn, the school department sent out a district-wide alert late Thursday saying the threats were not aimed at Auburn schools. But after the alert was sent, a Sabattus man who is a former student at Auburn’s Edward Little High School sent a photo of himself with firearms to a friend while referencing violence, Auburn police Chief Jason Moen said Friday.
Auburn police interviewed that man Friday morning and determined he was not a threat to Auburn schools. The police department forwarded the matter to the Androscoggin County District Attorney’s for consideration of criminal charges.
In Aroostook County, sheriff’s deputies and troopers from the Maine State Police dropped by schools across the county in an attempt to reassure kids that they’re safe, Aroostook County Sheriff Shawn Gillen said.
It was business as usual in the Easton School Department, located about 10 minutes east of Presque Isle, said Superintendent Mark Stanley, though law enforcement had made their presence known and students and staff were encouraged to report suspicious activity.
“I’ve heard very little to the contrary in schools across Aroostook County,” Stanley said.
Gillen, who said he planned to eat lunch on Friday with school kids, said that many students seemed somewhat anxious about the threats but seemed assured by the presence of officers.
“For the most part, we normally go into schools on a regular basis anyway,” Gillen said. “We are involved with the schools enough so they are comfortable telling us when they are concerned about a student or particular activity.”
BDN editor Julie Harris contributed to this report.