'Faulty water heater' blamed for active shooter report at Topsail High School

PENDER COUNTY, N.C. — Faulty mechanical equipment which was making a sound that resembled gunfire is believed to have led to calls of an active shooter situation at Topsail High School.

According to Capt. James Rowell with the Pender County Sheriff’s Office, crews are still searching the building as a precaution but they have found no evidence of an active shooter at this point.

Rowell said there are no reported injuries.

Law enforcement was called around 6:30 a.m. to Topsail High School. School was not in session at the time, authorities said.

Students were evacuated without any injuries and buses already on the way to school were diverted to a safe location.

Following the incident school officials released this statement:

"There was a report of an active shooter situation at Topsail High School this morning after noises were heard coming from the top of the building. Law enforcement responded immediately and it has been determined there is no shooter and no weapon."

We first updated WSOCTV news app users with a notification just after 7 a.m. Friday about the reported shooter situation.

Download the WSOCTV news app for your smartphone and get updates on this developing story as they come in.

Commissioner George Brown said a piece of equipment at the school that has been malfunctioning in recent days and it sounds like gunfire when it makes noise. This has been going on for several days and is being investigated as a source.

Regardless, officials were taking the situation very seriously to ensure everyone’s safety.

WECT was reporting a heavy law enforcement presence at the school, which is located on N. Saint Johns Church Road in Hampstead.

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According to WWAY, a parent said he received a telephone call from the school district Friday morning. He told the television station that all school in the eastern part of Pender County were on lockdown. Buses are at Lowe's Food across from the schools, and parents were told they could pick up their children there, WAAY reported.

Pender County Emergency Director Tom Collins said he also believed a malfunctioning water heater caused a gunfire noise and that the sheriff’s office is expected to hold a news conference soon.

“I was sure it was not gunfire over an hour ago,” Commissioner David Williams, who is also the assistant coach for the varsity football team, told WECT. “I also coach football there. Lately (during practice), we’ve been hearing a piece of mechanical equipment go ‘bam bam bam.’ It made us the first time we heard it turn around.”

Rowell said deputies swept the school but found no evidence that any shots had been fired.

Deputies did find an HVAC unit that was malfunctioning and making sounds similar to gunshots.

"We think it's going to be related to that faulty mechanical equipment," Rowell said.

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.

“Obviously I was worried,” Williams said. “My son goes to school there. My daughter just graduated.”

Williams believes the law enforcement response was 100 percent correct. There are a lot of kids on campus in the morning for practice.

“They did exactly the right thing. Law Enforcement did what they’re supposed to do,” Williams said. “There’s no such thing as an over response.”

Pender County Schools released the following statement:

At this time, all campuses on the eastern side of the county are on lockdown. Buses are being staged at Lowe’s Foods across from Topsail Elementary. All staff at Topsail Elementary, Topsail Middle, and Topsail High please report to Lowe’s Foods.

Check back with wsoctv.com for updates on this story.

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