IRMO, SC (WIS) - A threatening text message received by a Lexington-Richland School District Five teacher on the same day emergency crews evacuated Irmo High School due to smoke in the building has prompted the district to implement extra security measures and law enforcement to investigate the source of the message.
"I'm about to burn Lexington-Richland District 5 to the ground." That's the text message an unnamed teacher appeared to have received from well-known local attorney and former GOP executive Todd Kincannon Friday morning. The teacher reported the threat to a school resource officer who then relayed the information to the Richland County Sheriff's Department.
District officials learned of the message just before fire crews were dispatched to Irmo High School after somebody discovered smoke coming from a vent inside the building. The problem was later traced to a motor in a heating and air conditioning unit.
Officials determined that the incident at Irmo High School and the text message were unrelated.
The text sparked investigation by the district, two Midlands sheriff's departments as well as special security measures at schools and offices, according to district spokesperson Mark Bounds.
"In light of all the craziness in the world and what happened at Sandy Hook, we are hyper-vigilant where security issues are concerned," said Bounds.
On Friday afternoon, employees received the following alert:
Earlier today, we received information that there may an arson threat to our school facilities. While this may be a hoax, we must take any threatening comment or message seriously.
We ask that you take special care when securing your buildings for the weekend. Make sure all doors and windows are locked and all alarms (security and fire) are operational. Should you have weekend events occurring at your school, make sure there is proper security and adult supervision. Again, make sure that the building is secure when the events are over.
Please pay special attention to any unusual activities in and around your school and report any unusual individuals or activities to law enforcement.
Bounds says Richland and Lexington County deputies have been spending extra time since the discovery of the text message patrolling district schools facilities. Principals and teachers have been taking extra care to make sure their classrooms and schools are secure.
After investigating the source of the text message, law enforcement and district officials believe it was not meant to be a threat to school facilities. "It does not appear that anyone actually meant to burn down any of the schools," said Bounds.
The message appeared to originate from cell phone number held by Todd Kincannon, who also happens to be representing school board member Kim Murphy.
Kincannon says the message did not come from him or his phone. "This was some kind of stupid prank," said the former GOP executive director Tuesday. "Somebody spoofed my phone."
Spoofing is a practice which masquerades a phone number as another phone number when calling or sending messages. According to the FCC, it is an illegal activity punishable by a penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation.
"I was certainly never going to burn district schools or buildings down," Kincannon. "I have absolutely no idea who sent the text message."
Kincannon, who says the Richland County Sheriff's Department contacted him about the matter, says he did not recognize the phone number that received the message.
Kincannon believes the message is somehow related to his representation of Kim Murphy, who is currently fighting to prove she resides within Richland County, the county she was elected to represent.
The school board's chair recently said he believes Murphy lives in Lexington County.
Retired Circuit Court Judge G. Thomas Cooper has been chosen to look into the matter. He plans in March to examine all the materials presented to him during a hearing Friday. Once Cooper's recommendation is complete, it will be presented to Lexington-Richland Five school board members and a decision will be made on Murphy's property line dilemma.
A spokesperson for the Richland County Sheriffs Department said Tuesday that the investigation into the matter is still open. Deputies said Monday that investigators spoke with all parties involved and determined that there was no threat.
Bounds says the district has not gone back to normal operations yet. In a meeting with principals Wednesday, officials decided to stay on alert in abundance of caution. "The safety and security of our teachers and students is paramount," said Bounds. "We're going to remain vigilant until we're 100 percent sure no threat exists."
Lexington-Richland School District Five serves approximately 16,700 students and employs 2,500 people.