Sanford students, including Nathan Ghedoni, second from left, are bused to the Memorial Gym from Sanford High School hours after being put into lockdown from a false shooting threat reported to the police on Tuesday. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

SANFORD, Maine — Students and parents thought the text messages they were sending could be their last. There were rumors of shooting deaths. Some distraught parents screamed at police, angry about a lack of clear and quick information.

Those scenes came from Sanford High School on Tuesday morning after a series of reported school shootings — all determined by the Maine State Police to be apparent hoaxes — roiled communities across the state. The strongest community reaction appeared to be in Sanford, which drew the earliest media attention.

At the school’s entrance, buses full of students left the high school as police and FBI responded. Parents began screaming at the police that they weren’t being told enough. The scene at the Sanford Memorial Gym, where students were bused after the lockdown, was chaotic. Hundreds were in line to retrieve students. Cars were parked as far as half a mile down the road.

Cars line the entrance to the Memorial Gymnasium in Sanford on Tuesday morning. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

Chris Dubois was working at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard about 40 minutes away when he got a text message from his daughter, a junior, saying she loved him and was in lockdown. He was “terrified.” Another parent, Jessica Berube, said it was the worst day of her life.

“I was scared,” her son, Dakota Berube, said. “I was laying under a desk.”

Nathan Ghedoni, 17, said he was in the gym when the report came in. He was taken to a classroom, where the teacher barricaded the door. He was still wearing shorts with temperatures in the 40s when he was checked out of the gym by his mom, Cheryl Smith, who followed the dizzying reports and was relieved when she learned it was a hoax.

But other parents said they didn’t know what to believe well after it was reported to be a hoax. Hours after the lockdown, parents and students could still be spotted crying.

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“Not knowing what was true or what was going on was scary,” said Erin Brinkert, whose daughter, Savana Tippett, was put in lockdown.

Savana, a junior, was in English class when it happened. She said some students wept as they were locked down.

Marylou Mitchell got a message from her granddaughter that she was scared and hiding in a corner. She immediately headed toward the school and was one of the first ones there. While emotions ran high on the scene, she said first responders excelled. She believes the incident will ultimately bring the city closer and raise awareness of the potential for a school shooting.

Two women embrace outside Sanford High School after a false report of a shooting threat on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

“They responded so fast. It was amazing,” Mitchell said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Both teachers and students were on the same page. It was a devastating day, even though there was no serious threat to students’ safety.

“It’s kind of a surreal thing,” Tippett said. “You don’t really expect it to ever happen to you.”