Malfunctioning water heater led to calls of active shooter at NC high school

PENDER COUNTY, NC (WITN) - The Sheriff for Pender County says a malfunctioning water heater sounded like gunfire this morning at Topsail High School.

"What I heard when I got here sounded like gunfire," said Sheriff Carson Smith, "I don't want anybody to think that the students or the first officers that arrived on scene maybe overreacted."

Captain James Rowell says that 911 received a call around 5:51 a.m. from someone at the school that heard what sounded like gunfire coming from the roof.

Officers with several agencies responded to the scene and eventually made their way on to the roof where not a single spent shell casing was found, Rowell said.

Superintendent Steven Hill says that damage to a water heater from Hurricane Florence is to blame for the malfunction. Hill pointed to the combustion chamber at the bottom of the heater saying that the device in there malfunctioned allowing the ignition of gas that came through. When it hits a relief valve, it sounds like weapon going off when it hits the exit pipe, Hill said.

There will be no more noise from the water heater until it's fixed or completely repaired, Hill said.

Rowell says that 16 to 17 students who were there for athletics were immediately evacuated to Topsail Middle School.

The second half of the school day will go on as planned at Topsail High School.