High School Football

Tougher security planned at high school stadiums after Irmo, Dutch Fork gun panic

The Irmo-Chapin school district will tighten security at its high school football games following a Friday incident at Dutch Fork High School.

Chaos and panic broke out after students thought a gun was pulled in the stadium during Dutch Fork’s game with rival Irmo, which are both in the Lexington-Richland 5 school district. The crowd poured out of the bleachers, cheerleaders ran off the sidelines, and police entered the stadium.

Although no evidence of a firearm was found, the district said it is tightening security in order to prevent guns from coming into the stadiums.

The changes include:

  • Screening all spectators with handheld metal detectors, beginning with varsity football games at Chapin, Dutch Fork and Irmo high schools. The district may explore using metal detectors at other sporting events.

  • Spectators’ bags will be searched. The district said state law allows for the “reasonable search” of anyone entering school premises.

  • Admission will be charged throughout the duration of games.

  • All students eighth-grade or younger will be required to attend games with parents or guardians.

  • School Resource Officers will travel with teams to away games.

“We take safety and security very seriously,” said district Superintendent Christina Melton. “After listening to the concerns of our parents, staff, community members and school board members over the weekend, we met with our high school principals, district safety officers and other key district staff to take immediate action and implement new safety measures.”

The panic Friday night concerned Samantha Higgins, a parent of a Dutch Fork sophomore, who got a call from her daughter describing what happened. She was safe, she told her mother.

“I was glad to hear her voice but terrified,” Higgins said. The exit “was kinda like mass chaos.”

Police surrounded the school while parents hurried around the grounds looking for their children. Kids called their friends, trying to find them in the confusion.

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All police found was that a disturbance or verbal altercation of some kind started in or near the stadium. The word gun or shooting was mentioned or someone said they saw a weapon. That’s when the stampede started.

Richland County Public Information Officer Katie Jasak said the altercation itself wasn’t serious, “when all of a sudden people started saying something about shots fired or a gun. … We aren’t really sure why they started saying it.”

Richland County deputies cleared the stadium as a precaution, they said. Nobody was injured and no one was arrested.

“There’s no indication that there was ever a gun,” Jasak said.

The game was called in the fourth quarter with Dutch Fork defeating Irmo, 58-0, Lou Bezjak, The State’s high school football reporter, reported.

Adding metal detectors puts Lexington-Richland 5 in line with practices already being done at Richland District 1 and 2 football games.

“The added security steps are short-term, immediate measures that we can implement this week, and we will look at other measures that we may be able to adopt in the future,” Melton said.

Higgins, the Dutch Fork parent, said she is happy with the district’s changes.

“For me as a parent, I’m all for anything that will make it safer whether it’s metal detectors or clear bags,” she said.

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