Social media threats force lockdown, early dismissal (Updated)


Students looking out the window. Photo by Beth Brown.

Thomas Hartill, Devon Helmer, and Ari Bowman

Updated, as of Dec. 17:

Emmaus High School administrators issued a “precautionary” lockdown on Friday following a social media threat circulating on Snapchat that suggested the school would be “shot up” and listed several targeted individuals.

After more than two and a half hours, administration sent students home in small numbers with police support. School events planned for the evening have been adjusted as a result of the lockdown. The boys basketball game, scheduled at home against Dieruff, and the girls basketball game, away at Dieruff, were closed off to spectators; only cheerleaders and teams were to be in attendance. In addition, the holiday band concert was canceled with no current rescheduled date set.

The stir originally started before any specific threats were made against Emmaus High School.

East Penn officials notified parents on Thursday night that a viral post from the social media app TikTok threatened “every school in the USA.” However, most districts in the Lehigh Valley – like East Penn – reassured residents with extra police presence, as could be seen at Emmaus High School Friday morning. 

Three police cars positioned themselves in front of the school building in addition to a police officer stationed along North Street next to the senior parking lot. But before 9 a.m., parents were already starting to pick up their children at the Main Office, forming a line in the hallway. Many parents were concerned with how much information the school was releasing including EHS parent Craig Coenen.

“I feel a little bit concerned and confused, because the school has not been very forthcoming with information,” Coenen said. “I’ve heard a lot of things from different people about why the lockdown is happening, and it doesn’t coincide with what the school has said to us.”

Around 10:20 a.m., the school entered into an exterior threat lockdown out of “an abundance of caution” according to an announcement made by Assistant Principal Jordan Fortier. About 30 minutes later, Principal Dr. Kate Kieres sent out a message to Emmaus High School parents, alerting them to the current situation.

“Due to a large volume of messages that are circulating on social media and being shared amongst our students this morning, we’ve placed the building in lockdown as a precautionary measure while [the] Emmaus Police Department is on site to provide assistance,” Kieres said.

The original concern began after the spreading of generalized, nationwide threats on TikTok Thursday night. However EHS-specific threats were spread by students, originally coming from a Snapchat account under the name “johnson law,” prompting administration’s reaction to the situation.

The threats detailed a number of supposed “targets” including a freshman student and a number of principals. The Stinger is withholding the names of the individuals cited in the threat.

Sitting in darkened classrooms for nearly the entire morning, students around the building expressed concerns regarding the school’s handling of the situation, including sophomore Kayla Gonzalez.

“I’m pretty scared,” Gonzalez said. “They should have just canceled school.” 

State and local police secured the campus, which houses nearly 2,000 students. As students left, they could see armed law enforcement officers carrying large weapons on the property at Macungie Avenue and Pine Street. 

Junior Brian Merk did not think the threat was credible, and that it was just intended to “start drama” on social media. He spoke on responding to his mother’s permission for him to leave school. 

“We are in lockdown, [and] there’s a possible threat outside. If I walk outside, I have the stereotypical look of a tall, skinny white kid. That wouldn’t go over well for me,” said Merk.

As the day went on, the situation tensed. Cops with weapons surrounded and entered the school, with students still being told this was just a “precautionary measure.” Junior Abby Burnett mentioned feeling “nervous” due to the lack of communication, but she felt that her teacher handled students’ fears well. 

“I’m feeling a little nervous, we haven’t gotten a lot of information about [what’s going on],” Burnett said. “I’m in [lockdown] with a lot of people I like, and Mrs. Doklan is doing a great job; I’m feeling pretty safe.”

Some students decided to leave the building, including senior Select Choir member Lucas Nowak.

“The only reason I was still in the building was because I was told if I left, I wouldn’t be able to go to my [Select Choir] performance in Bethlehem,” Nowak said. “We were intending on leaving around 10:15. When we heard the news, we decided we needed to get out of here.”

Freshman Ava Lamm also felt concerned for her safety and chose to leave the building.

“I decided to leave early, because I had heard that there was a threat that was going to take place at 10:45. I started to get really nervous about what was going to happen,” Lamm said. “I then texted my dad and arranged for him to come pick me up from school.”

As Lamm exited the building, she described her surroundings. 

“[There was] a large amount of people being picked up at the same time as I was. The secretaries in the office seemed a little shaken up, but trying to stay calm and doing their very best to figure the whole situation out,” Lamm said. “The phones were ringing constantly [with] calls coming in from parents saying they were going to pick up their kids as well.”

Students were dismissed by section of the school with police escorts, beginning just before noon. All students and staff at Emmaus High School remained safe throughout the shortened school day.

Additional reporting by Keira Davies, Liza Duerholz, and Maximus McGrath