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Confusion reigns after real fight, then 'fake' fight calls, keep NHHS sheltered in place for hours

New Hanover High School
Benjamin Schachtman
New Hanover High School

A chaotic day at the downtown Wilmington high school involved multiple differing accounts and details from law enforcement, school administration, and parents and students.

According to the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office (NHCSO), a violent fight, reportedly on the lawn of New Hanover High School around 11:45 a.m., sent students into shelter-in-place and triggered a major law enforcement response.

NHCSO spokesman Lt. Jerry Brewer told WHQR that after the initial fight, there were multiple reports of additional altercations, but when law enforcement investigated, including a review of surveillance footage, there was no evidence of any fight after the first incident.

Brewer said these were, in effect, like 'Swatting calls,' in that they triggered additional measures — including returning the school to shelter-in-place for a second time.

Brewer said there were no weapons involved, and that he didn't believe there had been any arrests.

For the next two hours, a chaotic game of telephone played out, with students posting on social media and reporting to parents that there had been a dozen or more separate fights, possibly involving weapons.

Related: The communication frustration caused by New Hanover County school lockdowns seems intractable, for now

Around two and half hours after the first shelter-in-place, New Hanover High School Principal Philip Sutton sent an email to parents, notifying them the shelter-in-place had been lifted.

"Earlier today, two student altercation events occurred within our school. We swiftly initiated the shelter-in-place procedures to ensure everyone's security. Our staff and SROs promptly intervened, and local authorities were contacted for assistance. Out of an abundance of caution, the second shelter-in-place lasted longer than expected so law enforcement and school administration could investigate the situation," Sutton wrote.

New Hanover County Schools Chief Communication Officer Josh Smith provided some additional information.

Smith said there was an initial fight, prior to the one on the lawn that triggered law enforcement. Smith said he could confirm that there were several 'fake' reports of additional fights but also at least one additional confirmed fight, as well as a possible, but unconfirmed, fourth fight.

Smith said no weapons were involved in any of the altercations.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.