Heaven Carr-Williams was in science class Friday morning when her principal came over the loudspeaker.
“He tells us that it’s a lockdown and it wasn’t a drill and he wanted us to barricade the doors,” she said.
Alarms across the school sounded. She said her friend started to have a panic attack and called her mom.
For the next several hours, Heaven sat in the room with her classmates. There were long stretches of complete silence.
She watched her teacher try to conceal his nervousness. They heard popping sounds outside the door.
“It didn’t feel like a hoax,” she said.
Now the ninth grader is left with questions. Why hasn’t she done any active shooter drills since elementary school? What were those pops? Why was this all handled this way?
“We should still get closure,” she said.
What happened at Princeton High School today?
Princeton High School, home to about 1,600 students, was the target of what officials are calling a nationwide spree of hoaxes. USA TODAY found at least 30 active shooter false alarms and threats made at schools across the country just last week.
The district told parents that a false call about a threat prompted the lockdown at the middle school and high school Friday and partial lockdowns at a nearby elementary school.
Active shooter threats were reported at several schools in Ohio, including Princeton High School in Sharonville, Garfield High School in Akron, Belmont High School in Dayton, Catholic Central High School in Springfield, Findlay High School, Licking Valley High School in Newark, Scott High School in Toledo and St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland.
It was not known Friday afternoon if the threats were connected.
Police response was large and quick
The report prompted a massive police response. Ten ambulances from at least nine jurisdictions rushed to the school.
Sharonville police Lt. Walter Cordes said “over a hundred” police officers from multiple agencies, including Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Montgomery and Sharonville, as well as Cincinnati’s SWAT team arrived after a hoax shooting call came in around 10:15 a.m.
Meanwhile parents poured into the area after hearing the news on social media or getting texts from their children. It wasn’t until 11:15 a.m. that the first automated call went out to parents in the district.
“There is and was no active shooter,” the message said.
By that point, the streets around the school were crowded with parents. Many doubted the claim it was a hoax because of the terrifying messages they were receiving from inside the school.
Some parents angry over conflicting reports
Markita Richardson’s daughter attends Princeton High School.
“We’re getting phone calls from our kids that 11 people were shot, but then police are telling us it’s a hoax?” Richardson said. “And the attitude police were giving over here to parents, who are just worried about our kids, isn’t cool.”
Other parents were critical of security at the school. Mo Shaw of Sharonville got a text from his daughter, a Princeton student, asking if he knew why the school was on lockdown.
“They’re more worried about optics than security,” he said. “We’re Princeton. We’re a great district. We can do better than this. Who cares about optics when kids lives are on the line.”
Others were pleased with police response
Robert Brooksbank of Sharonville said the situation was scary, but he was impressed by the rapid police response from so many police departments. He could spot three different cruisers in the Vineyard Church parking lot from where he was standing.
He said he knew to come to the church because Princeton parents were sent there after a bomb scare last year. His daughter is in Princeton Middle School. She was able to text him that the school was locking down.
He then read that people were calling it an active shooter on Twitter. He launched an app on his phone and was able to see his daughter’s exact location in the school.
“Yes, it can be frustrating,” he said. “The school doesn’t want to give out false information. I understand that. The school doesn’t want to scare the kids or scare the parents.”
He also complimented district Superintendent Tom Burton who spent the morning walking around the Vineyard Church parking lot speaking with parents.
District and police followed protocols
The plans for dismissal at the high school and middle school changed multiple times through the early afternoon. High school students who rode buses and drove were released early to go home the way they came. Students who were dropped off or walked to school were escorted to Vineyard Church to meet their parents.
Cordes said police swept the entire building, checking every classroom. He said no one was injured and all the students were accounted for. He said the police response followed the protocols for a situation like this, and noted that he had never seen this many police in one place outside of a funeral for a fallen officer.
“The dispatcher doesn’t waste any time,” Cordes said. “We’re going to get to the school as soon as possible, address the threat, eliminate it, whatever we need to do to save as many lives as possible.”
Cordes could not say if the call Princeton received was connected to the other false reports made across the country, but he said it is being investigated. He said the department will release more information as soon as it’s available.
Superintendent Burton said extra counselors will be at Princeton school next week to support students and staff.
The Vikings football team was scheduled to play Friday. The game has been rescheduled to Saturday and will take place in Fairfield.
Quinlan Bentley, Victoria Moorwood and Cheryl Vari contributed to this report.