'Teacher' Was Hailed as Hero. It May Have Been a Hoax

Story of David Briscoe and Santa Fe shooting falls apart after 'Texas Tribune' looks into it
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 2, 2019 7:37 AM CDT
'Teacher' Was Hailed as Hero. It May Have Been a Hoax
Santa Fe High School junior Guadalupe Sanchez, 16, hugs her mother, Elida Sanchez, after reuniting with her at a meeting point at a nearby Alamo Gym following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, on Friday, May 18, 2018.   (Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle via AP)

"I barricaded the door with desks and tables and shut the lights." So recounted substitute teacher David Briscoe to CNN in May 2018 after a school shooting left 10 dead at Santa Fe High School in Texas. Briscoe was hailed as a hero as he told his story about protecting his students to other outlets as well, including Time, the Austin American-Statesman, and the Wall Street Journal. One big problem: The Texas Tribune now reports that no David Briscoe ever worked at the school —and "it appears his entire story was an elaborate hoax." Details:

  • Unraveling: The story began falling apart when Briscoe reached out to Tribune reporter Alex Samuels in April suggesting an interview on the one-year anniversary of the shooting. The story includes their exchanged texts, and the two subsequently had a 31-minute recorded interview. The Tribune was apparently the first outlet to vet Briscoe's story, however, and when Samuels asked to meet after the interview to fact-check some things, Briscoe balked.
  • New story: Briscoe now claims that someone must have stolen his identity and talked to the above-mentioned media outlets using his name. He has begun deleting former tweets about the shooting and is not responding to requests for comment, per the Tribune.

  • Removed: All four outlets have scrubbed Briscoe from their stories and published editor's notes. See CNN, Time, the Statesman, and the Journal. The latter's statement: "This article and headline have been updated to remove comments from a man who identified himself to The Wall Street Journal as having been inside the school at the time of the shooting. The Santa Fe Independent School District said that it had no record of employment for the man who identified himself as David Briscoe, a substitute teacher there. (June 27, 2019)"
  • The district: The Santa Fe Independent School District indeed says nobody named David Briscoe has ever worked there. "This situation illustrates how easily misinformation can be created and circulated," says Superintendent Leigh Wall. "We appreciate the efforts of those working to correct this misinformation."
  • The danger: Briscoe came to the attention of journalists through his social media posts immediately after the shooting, which is not uncommon for such breaking stories. "Social media and the Internet have made it a lot easier to create personas that would make it easier to trick a reporter,” Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism school, tells the Washington Post. "Now every reporter has to assume somebody is trying to trick her at any given point."
  • Gone silent: The New York Times notes that Briscoe is listed online as the chief executive of a social media marketing agency, but emails sent to the listed address are now being returned as undeliverable.
  • Telltale error: In his original interviews, Briscoe claimed to be an English teacher, but a Galveston County Sheriff's Office investigator tells the Tribune that the shooting took place far away from any English classrooms. Briscoe's story, then, didn't add up, because he surely couldn't have heard and seen what he claimed, even if he were in the school. But in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the claims slipped by unnoticed.
  • Trial: The trial of accused shooter Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a 17-year-old student at the time of the attack, is to begin in January 2020, per ABC13. Eight students and two teachers were killed.
(Victims' families have sued the suspect's parents.)

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