Schools across the country have been locked down or evacuated in response to a spate of falsely reported shootings and bomb threats, often referred to as “swatting.”
As students return to classrooms, reports of swatting have surfaced at dozens of schools in Louisiana, Minnesota, Colorado, Texas and elsewhere. In some cases, the prank calls have caused chaos and upset students, parents and educators who are already nervous about the threat of school shootings. Authorities in several states say they have leads as to who might be making the threats.
The FBI defines “swatting” as a bogus call to 911 with the intention of getting a response from law enforcement, particularly a SWAT team. The perpetrators of these calls often use technology to make it appear that the call is coming from the home of the person being “clapped”.
Chicago Police Department SWAT team members surround a house in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on July 27, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. Schools across the country have experienced a spate of “swatting” incidents as students returned to school. Scott Olson/Getty Images
Swatting calls are sometimes made as a prank and sometimes to get revenge, but the results can be deadly.
In Louisiana alone, 15 schools received active shooting threats Thursday from an Internet-based phone number with an out-of-state area code, reports said Zinnober today. One of the bogus threats targeted Abbeville High School southwest of Lafayette and closed the school for two hours, the newspaper reports.
Abbeville Police Chief Mike Hardy told the newspaper he and officers searched every classroom before learning the call may have been part of a prank affecting schools across the country.
At least 14 schools in Minnesota have been targeted with fake reports of active shooters, Minneapolis Fox affiliate KMSP-TV reports. Authorities investigating the call said Thursday all the calls came from a single IP address and believe one person was behind it, the broadcaster reports.
“While this was and is reported as a hoax, and here we are another day, the trauma felt by these teachers and students is so viscerally real,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a former educator, said. during a news conference Thursday, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
Walz described how his 15-year-old son received real-time video of friends hiding in closets at Mankato West High School, the school where the governor used to teach.
Schools in North Carolina and Colorado have also experienced a recent spate of swatting incidents, according to local media.
According to KMSP-TV, more than 30 brawls broke out at schools across the country between September 14 and September 21, according to a count of local Fox affiliates.
Jay Farlow, spokesman for the National Association of School Resource Officers, said news week in an email that the group does not have comprehensive figures on false reports in schools.
Farlow said that since a Sept. 13 hoax incident in Houston, news reports show there have been similar incidents in more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia.
Chaos broke out outside a school in San Antonio Tuesday after a false active shooter report was reported. The town is near Uvalde, the site of one of the worst school shootings in US history in late May and where police have been criticized for their overly cautious approach to the incident.
When Jefferson High School in San Antonio went into lockdown, parents clashed with police trying to force their way in, the reports San Antonio Express News. A man cut his arm trying to break a window to enter the school.
“I definitely got here quickly. I left work and came quickly,” Pete Vela, father of a 15-year-old boy, told the newspaper. “Finally, if someone was in there, I don’t blame the parents for wanting to come in, especially after what happened in Uvalde.”
Amy Klinger, co-founder of the Educator’s School Safety Network, told Education Week that mass shootings are often accompanied by hoaxes because some students see threats as a way to garner attention.
But she told the news outlet repeated lockdowns can reduce school staff and students’ readiness for a real threat, while also disrupting learning.
“They have a lot of quick reaction, fear and messages going out, people struggling to find their kids,” Klinger said. “There’s a lot more happening than we think and it’s having a much bigger impact.”
news week has reached out to the FBI for comment.