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State examining Davidson County emergency alert received in Rowan, other counties

SALISBURY — State officials are examining an emergency alert sent Thursday night after people in multiple counties were told to take shelter because of an escaped suspect in the Thomasville area.

Around 10:30 p.m. Thursday some smartphones in Rowan, Davidson, and other counties sounded an emergency alert tone and displayed the message “Please shelter in place fugitive at large. 20 white male please call 911. may be armed.” Rowan Emergency Management Division Chief TJ Brown said he’s aware of people who received the alert in Iredell and Stanly counties, too.

While the alert didn’t provide a location or other details, Keith Acree, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Public Safety, said it was legitimate. Acree said state workers are examining why and how it was sent to such a widespread area.

Cynthia Kaminski, who lives in Salisbury, was among those who received the alert. Because of the alert, she brought family members inside and began looking online for information. Kaminski said she was confused when she couldn’t find anything about an incident that prompted the alert. She “definitely wasn’t going to ignore it,” but also “wasn’t sure if it was a prank.”

“There was no follow-up, no explanation,” she said.

Brown, who lives in western Rowan County, received the alert on his work cellphone and not his personal one.

The incident in question involved a home invasion near the intersection of Lower Lake Road and Squire Bowers Road, which is located along Interstate 85 between Lexington and Thomasville. The Lexington Dispatch reported three men held people at gunpoint inside a house and fired weapons inside the home to incite fear. As Davidson County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived, a vehicle allegedly driven by Keyon Canty, 21, of Lexington left the scene and a chase began. Canty allegedly crashed the vehicle during the chase and fled, which prompted the emergency alert, the Dispatch reported.

By 2 a.m., Canty was captured near the wreck.

Brown and Acree said the alert was sent using the Wireless Emergency Alerts system, which allows people to receive geographically targeted messages about nearby, imminent threats such as dangerous weather or missing children. Acree said the alert was intended to be sent to a small, targeted area, but “it appears that it went across the county and even into some other counties.”

Usually turned on by default, the alerts’ appearance can vary based on someone’s smartphone; messages generally appear as pop-ups with a high-pitched, repeating tone, text describing the incident and a flashing, colored triangle. When one is needed, Brown said local public safety organizations fill out an application for an emergency alert and send it to state workers.

Before they knew about the home invasion near Thomasville, Brown said Rowan County Emergency Services employees reported Thursday’s alert to the state’s 24-Hour Watch Center as suspicious because it encouraged people to call 911 without any other context and didn’t include any information about where the incident was occurring. Brown said the alert generated calls to Rowan County’s 911 communications center, but he wasn’t sure how many could specifically be attributed to the Thomasville incident.

Kaminski said the intent of the system should be to help people. Unnecessarily scaring people can do more harm than good if it’s not warranted, she said.

The Dispatch reported Canty and two other men — Shalik Naquan White, 22, of High Point and Zachary Deontra Kearns, 29, of Thomasville — were charged with a series of crimes, including first-degree burglary and first-degree kidnapping, and each given $1 million bond.

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