By Alfred Charles, WRAL.com managing editor
Hampstead, N.C. — Law enforcement authorities in Pender County were called to Topsail High School early Friday morning on a report of an active shooter on campus but authorities say now that noise from a malfunctioning water heater was mistaken for gunfire.
Nearly 200 law enforcement officers and first responders rushed to the school, which is located at 245 N. Saint Johns Church Road in Hampstead, when the reports of an active shooter first surfaced around 7 a.m.
Sheriff Carson Smith said members of the cheerleading squad called in the active shooter report.
A spokesman for the Pender County Sheriff’s Office said law enforcement officers were still searching the campus as a precaution but reports indicate that it was faulty equipment that prompted the erroneous reports about gunfire.
There were no reports of injuries during the incident.
Students were diverted away from the campus and were transported to a nearby Lowe’s Foods grocery store while law enforcement officers investigated the report of an active shooter.
Pender County Emergency Director Tom Collins said he believed a malfunctioning water heater caused the gunfire noise.
Kelsey Jones, a student at the school, witnessed the police response to the incident.
“There was a bunch of police cars going around,” she said. “I was hoping nothing bad happened to the school or anything.”
Kelsey was on the way to school with her grandmother when the mayhem unfolded.
“This way we see that everybody comes in to help and that was a relief,” said Wanda Oopes, who was grateful that police were quick to respond.
Sheriff Smith, who says he prayed as he rushed to the scene, now joins an entire community relieved that this was just a drill.
“The sound that I heard when I arrived. I can fault no one that it was not gunfire,” he said. “It sounded like gunfire.”
News of a possible active shooter at the school has undoubtedly alarmed many parents in light of the mass shooting late Wednesday night in Souther California at a country western bar that left 13 people dead, including the suspected gunman who apparently killed himself.
Several other schools in Pender County were placed on lockdown as a precaution.
Deadliest mass shootings in the United States
There is no set definition for the term “mass shooting.” This chart includes shootings in which three or more people were killed. While most of the shootings listed here occurred since 2000, Columbine is included because of its notoriety; the 1986 shooting at the post office in Edmond, Okla., is included because it is the origin of the grim term “going postal.”
Source: Media reports, compiled by WRAL