Press "Enter" to skip to content

When Hoaxes Aren’t Funny

On Sunday I had just returned from a rare weekend away with my adult daughter Cassidy, visiting dear friends as five of us met Saturday evening in Sebastopol to hear a familiar band play at the HopMonk Tavern. We met up there, traveling from Seal Beach, Sacramento, Philo, and Fort Bragg, with one friend driving from just a few minutes away to the venue. After a great evening of dancing to the music, the next day we all had breakfast together (we recommend Fandee’s Restaurant in Sebastopol), and after we ate, we all went our own ways.

Cassidy and I took Highway One home together. I enjoyed the oceanside scenery as Cassidy slept for over an hour in the car, and I thought how wonderful that this busy mom of two holding down a full-time job with the Fort Bragg school district could get some good rest on our fun overnight adventure.

On Monday, as we settled back into our respective work week routines, I got a text from Cassidy while she was on the job at Fort Bragg Unified School District at about 1:30 p.m.

We are in lockdown. There’s a shooter at the high school. 4 people have been shot.

Every nerve in my body was on high alert as Cassidy and I continued to text. I felt helpless. I knew she was in a neighboring building, not directly on the Fort Bragg High School campus where the shooter was reported to be, but I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Cassidy and her co-workers had been told by police to lock the office doors and get under desks and stay low until released. Those district employees had no idea what was happening just outside their doors as hundreds of neighboring employees and students at the location were hiding and fearing for their lives. The high school was now swarmed by police and emergency personnel. Soon nearby Dana Gray Elementary School was under lockdown as well.

In Cassidy’s office, a co-worker whose daughter was in the high school’s classroom received a text:

Mom, if I don’t live through this, know I love you.

Everyone was terrified. All the employees were shaking in fear and hugging each other. Cassidy happened to have her one-year old son, my grandson Grayson, with her and was holding him trying to keep him quiet under the desk, wondering if they would both make it out alive.

Here is what Cassidy later wrote about the incident.

“Today was a horrific reminder that we are not ever as safe as we feel, falling into the daily routine, the base level of trust and comfort we feel can be ripped away so fast. I was sitting at work today, I had Grayson with me in the office, a nice, normal day. We get notice that we are on lockdown. Not much later I hear that we have 4 students shot. I sat on the floor behind my desk holding my baby, terrified, with my coworkers, shaking, crying, trying to keep calm, relying on very little verified information, trying to figure out what we could do, if we were safe, what was happening. We cried and prayed for our students, the faculty at school, the first responders who went in without hesitation. All to find it was a sick, disgusting hoax. It is not nothing to the students, parents, and everyone else involved. This was traumatic for our whole community.”

Soon enough by about 2:20 p.m. after the police did a thorough search of the campus, it became apparent that there was not a shooter at the high school. After the lockdown was released, unbelievably the same reports of a shooter on campus occurred at the high schools in Ukiah and Willits. Apparently this is a “thing” called “swatting,” which is the practice of making a prank call to emergency services in an attempt to dispatch armed police officers and other personnel to a specific address. Swatting has been happening nationwide since the recent tragic actual school shooting during which six people, three of them children, lost their lives on a Nashville, Tennessee, school campus last week.

Now that everyone from the Fort Bragg incident is known to be okay, the local news in Mendocino is tritely using the word “hoax” to describe what happened at Fort Bragg High today. A hoax connotes a joke, something amusing. 

Having hundreds of people hiding from a shooter and fearing for their lives while on a school campus is not a hoax: that actually happened. It is also no joke that the parents in the Fort Bragg community thronged the schools to try and make sure their kids were okay, fearing for their children’s lives, and also, mental stability after such a traumatic incident. There’s no joke about frayed nerves, tears, confusion, and fear. Hoax is a word that lessens what happened and demeans the experience these people all endured. Even in our own family, Cassidy’s father, brother, and those close friends we just spent the weekend with, were experiencing the drama with her, through her texts. I still have a pit in my stomach from what we witnessed, even secondhand, today due to a “hoax.”

Of course, luckily, no one was shot and there may not have even been a gun discharged on campus, although there are employee reports of a noise “like gunfire” moments before the lockdown that may be attributed to fireworks or explosives of some sort. But to everyone experiencing the pandemonium, from those parents hearing about it on the news and swarming the schools, to bus drivers who couldn’t get to the kids to pick them up, to school personnel hearing conflicting stories, to people like me envisioning their kid (and grandkid) being hunted like prey by a shooter, it was very real, and did not feel like a hoax at all.


  1. Lou April 14, 2023

    Quibbling about a definition is really an expression of your outrage and resentment. What you went through was truly horrible, but the first definition of hoax is something meant to deceive. It being a joke is only the third definition:
    1. An act intended to deceive or trick.
    2. Something that has been established or accepted by fraudulent means.
    3. A humorous or mischievous deception; a practical joke; usually, a marvelous or exciting fabrication or fiction gravely related as a test of credulity.

    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

    I genuinely hope this does not become a trend. It is truly no joke! Whoever phoned it in needs to be caught and punished. It’s like crying fire in a crowded theater! Like trump saying witch hunt, it is a lie.

  2. J Guenther April 19, 2023

    “Swatting” has been a thing for a long time. Sending SWAT teams to a rival’s address as a means of revenge is apparently considered okay in certain circles, particularly “social” media and gaming. In the case below, it was not a SWAT team, but local police with little or no training.

    There’s a very real chance that police will surround the house at night, all shouting “pleesthrupyerhansthrupleespyerhansthrupyerpleeshans!” The resident will have no idea what they are saying or who these men are, and when he doesn’t comply instantly, a nervous cop will take a shot. That’s how Andrew Finch was killed. His 18-year-old niece Adelina witnessed his death and died by self-inflicted gunshot a year later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *