(NEXSTAR) – Law enforcement and schools nationwide are on high alert amid an apparent TikTok trend threatening violence nationwide on Friday.
Authorities and school administrators in several states, including Missouri, say they have been made aware of a social media challenge encouraging students to bring weapons to school on Dec. 17. So far, police departments and school districts are calling the threat unfounded.
According to statements from school and police officials, the posts to TikTok and other social media platforms have not originated in their communities and do not refer to specific schools but are instead part of a “nationwide trend.”
Multiple law enforcement agencies in the St. Louis area — including the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, the Bethalto Police Department, and the Maries County Sheriff’s Office — said there will be an increased police presence at schools in their areas.
“Social media is a powerful tool that has the potential to influence individuals, however, those influences are not always appropriate,” the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook. “It is important that the public understand that vigilance in reporting potential threats is necessary for the safety of the public and our schools.”
The Bethalto Police Department warned people that “there is nothing funny about making this type of threat or spending years in prison for a challenge.”
“Remember it won’t be the person who challenged you to make the threat that goes to jail — it will be you,” the department posted on Facebook.
The Parkway School District also released the following statement:
We are aware of a post on the social media platform TikTok encouraging threats to school safety across the country on Friday, Dec. 17. The post mentions the threats should be “for every school in the USA, even elementary.”
The post did not originate in our school district and appears to be part of a national TikTok trend. Parkway officials have been in contact with local police throughout the day today. They are aware of the threat and have been monitoring the situation. At this time, we are not aware of any threats to our schools or any schools in our area.
While we do not believe this is connected to Parkway, we are closely monitoring the situation and taking it seriously. If you or your child becomes aware of any potential threat to our schools, please notify law enforcement immediately.
We will continue to be vigilant and prepared to respond with the help of our SROs, the Parkway Security Department and law enforcement partners should the need arise tomorrow or any day. I appreciate your support and for the shared responsibility we all have in keeping our schools safe.Parkway Superintendent Keith Marty, Ed.D.
TikTok released a statement Thursday which reads, “We handle even rumored threats with utmost seriousness, which is why we’re working with law enforcement to look into warnings about potential violence at schools even though we have not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok.”
Other districts and law enforcement agencies are also encouraging parents to talk to their children about the threats. It can be a difficult conversation, but the American Psychological Association offers a few tips on how to go about it.
First, they suggest leading with listening. You may want to start out by asking your child what they’ve heard about what’s going on at school. You should answer your children’s questions honestly, suggests the APA, while making sure they know they are safe.
“Parents should acknowledge to children that bad things do happen, but also reassure them with the information that many people are working to keep them safe, including their parents, teachers and local police,” says the APA.
If your child has any information on a threat, be sure to share that information with law enforcement. In many cases, that can be done anonymously.
Finally, the APA tells parents to keep an eye out for warning signs their kids may need additional help.
“Such indicators could be a change in the child’s school performance, changes in relationships with peers and teachers, excessive worry, school refusal, sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches or stomachaches, or loss of interest in activities that the child used to enjoy.”
Making false threats of terrorism is a crime that can carry long prison sentences in many states. Parents may want to emphasize the consequences of spreading such rumors with their children.
As a precaution, some schools like Gilroy High School in California have canceled classes for Friday. Others like Academy District 20 in Colorado Springs and Granite High School in Salt Lake City will have an increased police presence during the day, according to local reports.