A man claiming he was a substitute teacher who saved his students during a horrific school shooting, has been exposed as a fraud. Using the name “David Briscoe,” the man reached out to national news organizations after the May 18, 2018, Santa Fe High School massacre in Santa Fe, Texas. Eight students and two teachers were fatally wounded during the attack. Briscoe was quoted by multiple news outlets including CNN, TIME, the Wall Street Journal.
The attack at Santa Fe High School was perpetrated by Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17. Pagourtzis entered the school with a shotgun and 38 caliber revolver, both legally owned by his father. He told authorities that his plan was to target anyone he didn’t like and spared those he did so that they, in turn, would tell his story. The rampage lasted approximately 25 minutes. Law enforcement also found several explosive devices at the school manufactured by Pagourtzis however, none were capable of detonating.
Briscoe recently contacted Texas Tribune reporter Alexandra Samuels to see if she’d be interested in writing a piece marking the one-year anniversary of the tragedy. After a lengthy interview, Samuels started fact-checking Briscoe’s story with law enforcement and school administrators, who said they weren’t familiar with anyone at the shooting named David Briscoe. Several survivors also stepped forward to say they’d never heard of him, either.
Briscoe’s Twitter profile lists his accomplishments as “Dad. CEO. Harvard ’19. Avid Traveler.” Here’s what you need to know about “David Briscoe” and his elaborate hoax to gain national notoriety as a hero.
1. Briscoe Portrayed Himself as a Hero
Briscoe claimed he was the substitute teacher for a remedial English class at Santa Fe High School on the day of the shooting. He stated he was teaching a small group of students he’d never met. Suddenly he heard screaming, gunshots and the fire alarm. He told members of the media that he didn’t know where the shooter was so he instructed his students to muffle their screams with their hands.
Briscoe detailed how he barricaded the classroom door with tables and desks and turned the lights off. He allegedly instructed the students to get down on the ground. He told CNN he could hear somebody who might have been shot groaning in pain just outside his classroom door.
2. Major News Outlets Shared His Story
Briscoe went on the record with several major news organizations, telling them that he was 24 years old and had only taught at Santa Fe High School three times. He revealed to TIME that ordering his students to cover their mouths to keep quiet was something he thought of as the shooting was unfolding. “That was something I never learned in training,” Briscoe said, adding “It was something for me that just clicked.”
He shared his feelings about the shooting. “It felt like hours before we got out of the school, but one of my students said it was 30 to 45 minutes,” Briscoe said. “I had around 10 to 15 students and I’m grateful they were safe,” he told CNN.
3. Texas Tribune Reporter Alexandra Samuels Discovered the Hoax
Last April, Briscoe once again reached out to journalists. He was pitching his story to anyone who might be interested in getting his perspective on the shooting, one year after the tragedy. “In light of the recent suicides from the survivors of [Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting], I think it’s important to shed light and walk through the minds of survivors in previous shootings. Thanks for your time!” he wrote to Samuels.
Samuels spent 31 minutes speaking with Briscoe as he revealed what happened on that fateful day. He told Samuels the shooting had left him severely depressed and suicidal. He quit teaching three months after accepting the job, left Texas to stay with his family in New Orleans and then moved to Florida to start a social media company.
But after their interview, Samuels contacted the Santa Fe Independent School District to confirm Briscoe’s employment. Samuels discovered the district had four substitute teachers at the school on the day of the shooting but there was no record of any teacher named David Briscoe.
Samuels tried to follow up with Briscoe to clear up the inconsistencies but didn’t get a response for two weeks. He finally replied to Samuels, telling her that one of his former employees had stolen his identity had conducted the interviews. He asked Samuels to send her recordings so his “operations manager” and law enforcement could investigate. Briscoe refused to identify the employee he claimed had spoken with her and other news organizations. Briscoe then blocked his email, disabled his direct messaging on social media and let all of Samuels’ calls go to voicemail.
4. There Were Multiple Holes in Briscoe’s Story
Santa Fe Independent School District spokeswoman Lindsey Campbell told Samuels there was no employee named David Briscoe at the school that day, nor was there a record of a David Briscoe ever having been employed by the school district.
Samuels learned Briscoe had a home in Florida at the time of the shooting but there was no record of David Briscoe living in Texas when the shooting occurred.
Briscoe recounted to the Texas Tribune that after moving to Orlando, he’d shared his story with students and teachers at Centennial High School and claimed the principal had honored him. Centennial High School has no record of anyone named David Briscoe speaking to the school’s students about the Texas shooting.
“We are extremely disappointed that an individual that has never been a part of our school community would represent themselves as a survivor of the mass violence tragedy that our community endured,” Santa Fe ISD Superintendent Leigh Wall told the Texas Tribune. “This situation illustrates how easily misinformation can be created and circulated, especially when the amount of detailed information available is limited due to the still ongoing investigation.”
The Galveston County Sheriff’s office, which assisted with the school shooting investigation, pointed out another problem with Briscoe’s story. According to Lieutenant James Roy, the shooting occurred by the art rooms and that there were no English classes held on that side of the school. According to Roy, it would have been very difficult for Briscoe to have heard the gunshots were student’s screams. “If he was anywhere other than that hallway, I don’t think he could’ve heard anything but the fire alarm,” Roy told the Texas Tribune. The Sheriff’s office also had no record of interviewing a David Briscoe after the shooting.
5. News Agencies Immediately Corrected Their Stories
News agencies quickly corrected their articles and removed Briscoe’s name after Samuels’ story broke.
“This article has been updated to change the headline and remove comments from a man who identified himself as a substitute teacher in a classroom near the shooting at Santa Fe High School. He was later determined to be an imposter who was not at the school during the shooting,” read the initial sentences in the editor’s note above the Austin American-Statesman’s 2018 story.
“This article has been updated to remove comments from a man who identified himself to CNN as having been inside the school at the time of the shooting,” CNN wrote in the editor’s note appearing in their updated piece.
The Wall Street Journal mentioned the deletion of Briscoe’s statements in their “Corrections & Amplifications” section.
“I don’t know what motivates people to try and take advantage of the tragedy like this. It’s sick and it’s sad,” Austin American-Statesman Managing Editor John Bridges said after learning what the man had done. Bridges went on to say that reporters try and make every possible attempt to verify their sources but that during the chaos that occurs after a major tragedy even the most diligent reporters can be fooled. He added that some people “unfortunately attempt to take advantage of those situations and try to dupe reporters.”