Police investigate bogus e-mails claiming Hawkins schools closed

Jeff Bobo • Feb 5, 2013 at 4:33 AM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County detectives are investigating bogus e-mails sent to three TV news shows Monday night falsely announcing that Hawkins County schools would be closed Tuesday.

Although the Hawkins County school system had alerted all media Monday afternoon that school would be on a two-hour delay Tuesday, and only rural Clinch School would be closed, two Tri-Cities news stations ran the incorrect information on their 11 o’clock newscasts. A Knoxville TV news station contacted Hawkins County Schools prior to its 11 o’clock news and verified that the e-mails were bogus.

Hawkins County Director of Schools Charlotte Britton said Tuesday that three separate e-mails were sent to each of the three TV stations. Those e-mails apparently originated outside the school district’s communications system, Britton added.

The ruse was elaborate enough to use actual names on the e-mails. One e-mail was identified as coming from “Hawkins County Schools,” one from “Adrian Smith, School Messenger,” and one from “Charlotte Britton, Director of Schools.”

Smith is actually the school system’s supervisor of career and technical education and student services.

Britton told the Times-News Tuesday after learning of the incorrect TV news reports she contacted the two Tri-Cities TV stations shortly after the 11 o’clock news and had the report corrected.

Still, it created a lot of confusion Tuesday and resulted in schools across the county receiving a lot of phone calls.

Attendance among K-8 students didn’t appear to be affected. System-wide, K-8 attendance was reported at 92 percent Tuesday, whch Britton said is normal for this time of year. High school attendance figures from Tuesday wouldn’t be available until Wednesday.

“Security procedures are in place with area news media to prevent bogus announcements, but in this isolated case, they were not followed and the system was compromised,” Britton said. “(The Knoxville station) received the same e-mails and immediately responded requesting validation of security. With no response, the status of Hawkins County schools was not changed (by the Knoxville station).”

Britton added, “The Hawkins County school system is sorry for any confusion this action created for the parents, students and personnel of Hawkins County Schools. The miscommunication was not the fault of the Hawkins County School System. Both (Tri-Cities TV stations) have apologized to Hawkins County Schools for not following the security procedure established by each news station. An investigation is under way to track the bogus emails sent to news media.”

Anyone with information about the bogus e-mails is asked to contact the HCSO at 423-272-4848.

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