As news of the San Bernardino shooting broke, three soldiers dressed in plain clothes decided it was the right time to start touring North Carolina elementary schools, asking “suspicious” questions and generally freaking everyone out.
It’s a weird story: The men were apparently in the area on official Army business—except no one could confirm it at the time, and officials were never warned in accordance with normal procedure. That oversight, it seems, may have been because the men were never authorized to visit the elementary schools—a vaguely unsettling choice they made “on their own initiative.”
The men had gone to White Oak Elementary and Bogue Sound Elementary schools after noon on Wednesday and were asking questions as to whether the schools were designated as crisis evacuation centers, according to a press release from the sheriff’s office. The men were asked for ID and showed what officials say looked like military style ID cards and said they were from Fort Bragg, according to CCSO. Those IDs, however, were not verified at the time, and local military installations subsequently told investigators that there were not any exercises or security assessments underway in Carteret County.
People were reportedly so concerned that the men might be connected to the San Bernardino attack that the Sheriff’s Office ended up sending out a public press release asking for help in identifying them. Eventually officials were able to confirm the men were part of “an official exercise that deployed teams to gather information in preparation for major disasters including military incidents, hurricane and flooding disasters, and locating food banks and shelter locations.” Except—elementary schools were decidedly not part of the investigation.
“This particular one fell through the cracks,” Carteret County Sheriff Asa Buck said in an understated press release.