When I arrived on scene, what I heard sounded like gunfire, explained Sheriff Carson Smith. Everyone did exactly what they were supposed to do.
“Pender County Schools is thankful everyone is safe and thanks local emergency services for its immediate response,” the district said. Topsail High, Topsail Middle, and Topsail Elementary remain on lockdown.
Smith said stress levels were high as the calls came in and he could hear the sound of gunshots in the background of the radio traffic.
Dont let our kids get hurt. Dont let our kids get hurt. Youre just praying to God dont let our kids get hurt.- Superintendent on what was going through his mind on the way to the scene this morning
I heard dozens [of shots], Smith explained, adding he said a prayer while driving to Topsail High school.
According to Capt. James Rowell with the Pender County Sheriffs Office, crews searched the entire building, clearing the school room by room but found no evidence of an active shooter.
HAMPSTEAD, N.C. (AP) — A county official says reports of an active shooter at a school in North Carolina on Friday turned out to be malfunctioning water heater.
Authorities respond to active shooter at NC HS
At some point during the morning, law enforcement officials were alerted to a malfunction water heater that could have been the source of the gunfire sound. Officials were able to get to the water heater, which was damaged during Hurricane Florence, and re-created the sound.
I was sure it was not gunfire over an hour ago, said Commissioner David Williams, who is also the assistant coach for the varsity football team. I also coach football there. Lately (during practice), weve been hearing a piece of mechanical equipment go bam bam bam. It made us the first time we heard it turn around.
Williams said he has heard the sound personally and can understand how someone might hear it and make a report. He thinks it could be a remnant problem from Hurricane Florence, explaining the sound is up high, near the roof line and faces the back of the building.
The school district added that the report of an active shooter came after “noises were heard coming from the top of the building.”
Obviously I was worried, Williams said. My son goes to school there. My daughter just graduated.
Officials with the Pender County Sheriffs' Office are still searching Topsail High School as a precaution, and Pender Schools remain on lockdown.
The high school went into lockdown at 6:30 a.m. ET due to reports of the sounds of gunfire. Pender Schools confirmed in a tweet that it was investigating an active shooter at Topsail High School at about 8 a.m. It added that all of the district's campuses on the "eastern side of Pender County" are on lockdown.
He said deputies did find an HVAC unit that was malfunctioning and making sounds similar to gunshots.
No gunshots fired at North Carolina high school
Pender Schools later confirmed that the noises "from the top of the building" were mistaken for gunfire. They added that it was determined that there was no weapon and no shooter.