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Morrison County schools close due to potential social media threat

Schools in Little Falls, Pierz and Royalton announced Thursday afternoon they planned to close on Friday out of an abundance of caution due to potential threats appearing on TikTok.

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A TikTok logo is displayed on a smartphone in this illustration taken January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
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Three area schools are closing their doors Friday, Dec. 17, after a nationwide TikTok trend threatened school violence.

School officials in Little Falls, Pierz and Royalton announced Thursday afternoon they planned to close Friday out of an abundance of caution due to potential threats from the video social media platform.

The Morrison County Sheriff’s Office issued a news release Thursday notifying the public of a social media post that may have identified the three districts.

“At this time, we have not been able to identify or verify the specific post or parties who may have been responsible,” the news release stated. “The investigation is ongoing. We are working in partnership with the school districts and all local law enforcement agencies directly impacted.”

Pierz canceled all home after-school activities Thursday night, and Superintendent George Weber wrote in a letter to families that decisions on Friday evening and Saturday events would be made after further consultation with law enforcement.

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Little Falls and Royalton canceled all home events and activities for both Thursday and Friday.

The sheriff’s office also reminded parents and guardians to pay attention to their children’s social media use and to make sure discussions are positive and respectful and do not violate their school’s code of conduct.

“Students need to be reminded that everything that is posted on social media can be shared,” the release stated. “They need to think about every message they convey prior to sending it out viral.”

If anyone is aware of potential threats to the local schools, they should call the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office at 320-632-9233.

Superintendents in Brainerd and Crosby-Ironton announced Thursday they were also aware of the situation but because there were not any credible threats directed specifically at the schools, they would both be open Friday.

Crosby-Ironton Superintendent Jamie Skjeveland said in a Facebook post Thursday evening law enforcement would patrol the school buildings Friday as an extra precaution, and parents who do not feel comfortable sending their students to school could call the attendance secretary to excuse their students.

“At this time, DPS (Department of Public Safety) is reporting that the origins of this threat remain unknown and there is no evidence to suggest that any mass causality or severe violence incidents will occur on this date, within Minnesota or the U.S. more broadly,” Skjeveland wrote in his post.

This TikTok threat comes on the heels of incidents in three lakes area districts over the past couple weeks.

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Social media threats spread by Crosby-Ironton students Dec. 3 caused panic among some and generated rumors of a lockdown, though no such action occurred. Students and families were unnerved at the posts after the recent school shooting in Michigan, but no violence occurred, and Skjeveland said those involved would face consequences up to and including expulsion.

A Brainerd High School student brought an unloaded BB gun to school Dec. 8. Administrators contacted law enforcement, and the gun was confiscated without incident.

Pequot Lakes schools closed Monday and opened two hours late the following day, after district and law enforcement officials received numerous calls and emails about a photo making the rounds on social media of a Pequot Lakes student holding a gun and making threats. A police investigation later found the picture was circulating for more than five weeks, and local police are working with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to determine the source of the picture, which could take several weeks, the Echo Journal reported.

Police deemed there was no imminent credible threat to students or staff.

A Pequot Lakes High School student was also expelled this week after damaging Principal Aaron Nelson’s truck with a knife in the school parking lot. A Snapchat video making the rounds shows Nelson standing next to his truck as the student — whose face is off camera — drags a knife along the vehicle. Police Chief Eric Klang said charges would be forwarded to the Crow Wing County Attorney’s Office.

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