Students at the Oberlin High School in Oberlin, La., caused an uproar when they spread rumors about a boy who had joked about a square root symbol looking like a gun. A joke quickly became a tall tale that claimed this boy had planned to attack the school with guns and bombs. The Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office responded to a call from KPLC, saying they had received an anonymous tip claiming there was going to be a major shooting involving the jokester.
The Lexington Herald-Leader spread the panic further, reporting that a student’s house was searched over a math problem.
A discussion among students at Oberlin High School in Oberlin, La., about a mathematical symbol led to a police investigation and a search of one of the student’s homes, according to the Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office.
On the afternoon of Feb. 20, detectives investigated a report of terroristic threats at the school, where they learned that a student had been completing a math problem that required drawing the square-root sign.
Students in the group began commenting that the symbol, which represents a number that when multiplied by itself equals another number, looked like a gun.
After several students made comments along those lines, another student said something the sheriff’s office said could have sounded like a threat out of context.
Police searched the student’s home, where they found no guns or any evidence that he had any access to guns. Authorities also wrote there was no evidence the student had any intent to commit harm.
Except that’s not what Allen Parish Sheriff Doug Hebert told PJM.
“The whole notion that there was a SWAT raid over a math symbol is absurd,” Hebert told PJM. “I got a call from a KPLC that they had a serious threat of a shooting at the school, so we went to the house to verify. There was no search warrant, we just sent two [deputies] to knock on the door,” chuckled Hebert. “This is a small parish and everybody knows everybody and we found out very quickly there was no crime and no threat.”
In spite of that declaration, the student is facing expulsion. In the wake of the shooting in Florida the school board set a new policy. According to KATC, “Any student accused of talking about guns or school shootings will be investigated by three entities: the school board, the sheriff’s department, and the district attorney’s office.”
Hebert’s office is under major fire nationally and his phones are ringing off the hook. “It’s crazy,” he continued. “I’ve had to take down a Facebook posting I made informing the public what happened because my page will never become a place for political debate. That would impede my ability to inform my citizens.” Hebert is concerned that this story has been blown way out of proportion, mostly by media spreading unverified information.
This is a good example of the news media not utilizing investigative skills to get the full story before running with inflammatory stories. With the climate of mistrust many have with the police, printing unverified stories of illegal searches and seizures only serves to widen the gap of trust between citizens and police. Journalists in mainstream media don’t appear to care about such things as they rush to press to be first with the story.
Here at PJM, we are committed to actual journalism where facts matter.
Join the conversation as a VIP Member