WILLISTON, N.D. – A rumor that spun out of control Wednesday shut down the Williams County 911 system and wasted hours of law enforcement time.
The Williams County Sheriff’s Office said it received a report at 6:10 a.m. Wednesday from Michael Keith of Lampe, Mo., that he was traveling on Highway 1804 about seven miles east of Williston when he heard something hit his vehicle. Once he arrived at his work site, Keith noticed that his driver’s side mirror had been hit with what he believed to be a bullet, authorities said.
Deputies met with Keith, searched the area and met with residents in the immediate vicinity. No resident had heard any gunshots about the same time that the incident was believed to have happened, said Capt. Verland Kvande of the Williams County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies responded to the area again later Wednesday after receiving numerous reports from the public of someone shooting along Highway 1804, Kvande said.
Nothing was located in the area and callers could not provide vehicle or suspect information, Kvande said.
Contrary to rumors that spread, the sheriff’s office did not close down Highway 1804 and did not inform any companies to shut down their operations.
Sheriff Scott Busching said he and at least five others with the department spent up to three hours Wednesday investigating the rumors. Some callers said the shooter was in Tioga or Trenton, so deputies had to check those areas as well.
“It took us off of everything,” Busching said.
The department received so many calls it had to shut its phone systems down, he said.
Authorities are investigating how the rumor started and there could be consequences for individuals who were responsible, Busching said.
The rumor also reached Stanley, where City Commissioner Dennis Lindahl checked with his city’s police chief and also found out it was false.
Lindahl speculated that it may have been reaction from the crew camp shooting reported in Tioga over the weekend.
“There’s just a little bit of Oil Patch hysteria,” Lindahl said.
Williams County law enforcement has had to investigate rumors before, but “nothing that went nuts like this,” Busching said.
He had this advice for the public: “Don’t believe everything you hear.”