Rumors of local violence were just rumors

Published 10:37 am Wednesday, January 3, 2018

by Stephen H. Cowles and Stephen Faleski

Any talk of impending violence targeting Franklin last weekend recently was just that … talk.

Last Friday, users of social media sites were reportedly circulating rumors of imminent attacks from a person or persons unknown, specifically on two places in the city — Walmart and Southampton Memorial Hospital.

Kim Marks, the hospital’s CEO, did say that evening of receiving a warning of threats of violence.

“We were just alerted by the local police of the potential for violence,” she said by phone, adding that the call came in at approximately 3:30 p.m.

“The hospital is responding to the threats and taking them very seriously,” Marks said then. “The facility, including East Pavilion is on lockdown, but we are accepting patients through the emergency department.”

She added that the hospital would be collaborating with the area law enforcement, including Southampton County Sheriff’s Office, to keep everyone safe.

While perhaps better to be safe than sorry in such an instance, there were no calls to Franklin Police about any large-scale violence anywhere in the city, according to department spokesman Capt. Tim Whitt.

Last Friday night, he told The Tidewater News that there proved to be “no credible intelligence” to such rumors. There was nothing to confirm that gang violence was going to occur.

Whitt added that the source of it all was tracked to a text that had nothing to do with gangs or violence.

He reiterated on Tuesday morning, “Obviously, nothing happened.

“Social media can be wonderful … and a pain.”

Elsewhere in the city, downtown business owners couldn’t say whether the rumors of violence had any impact on their sales, as few were open the day in question and others did not learn of the rumors until after the fact.

Alphabet Soup on Second Avenue was closed the day the hypothetical violence was to occur, and the owners of Mackan’s and The Cat’s Meow on Main Street both said they had not heard of any rumors.

Teresa Beale, executive director of the Franklin-Southampton area Chamber of Commerce could not say what, if any, impact the rumors had on business that weekend either, as she was out of town for the holiday. She did say she saw something on Facebook and on WAVY about the potential threat, and confirmed that no business owners had said anything to her about a loss of business resulting from the rumors that weekend.

Mayor Frank Rabil said he first learned of the rumor around 6 p.m. on Friday via social media, and had heard only that some suspected violence was to occur somewhere between the Franklin Walmart and Southampton Memorial Hospital, all of which was later found to be unsubstantiated.

He confirmed that both the city’s police department and the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office were notified of the potential threats.

“I would encourage all citizens, if they hear something or see something or suspect something to contact the police department and don’t put it on social media,” Rabil said, commenting on how quickly  the rumor had spread.

He added that he felt Franklin needed to come together as a city and as a community to curb or stop future violence or threats thereof, be they real or imagined.