Schools across the country have been placed on lockdown or evacuated in response to a wave of falsely reported shootings and bomb threats, often referred to as “swatting.”
As students return to class, reports of swatting have surfaced at dozens of schools in Louisiana, Minnesota, Colorado, Texas and elsewhere. In some cases, the prank calls have caused pandemonium and rattled students, parents and educators already reeling from the threat of school shootings. Authorities in several states say they have leads about who may be making the threats.
The FBI defines “swatting” as making a prank call to 911 with the intent of eliciting a response from law enforcement, particularly a SWAT team. The perpetrators of these calls often use technology to give the appearance that the emergency call is coming from the home of the person who is being ‘dragged’.
Swatting calls are sometimes done as pranks and other times to get revenge, but the results can be deadly.
In Louisiana alone, 15 schools received active shooter threats Thursday from an Internet-based phone number with an out-of-state area code, reports Vermilion Today. One of the false threats targeted Abbeville High School, southwest of Lafayette, and put the school on lockdown for two hours, the newspaper reported.
Abbeville Police Chief Mike Hardy told the newspaper that he and officers searched every classroom before learning the phone call may have been part of a hoax affecting schools across the country.
In Minnesota, at least 14 schools have been targeted by false active shooter reports, Minneapolis Fox affiliate KMSP-TV reports. Authorities investigating the call said Thursday that all the calls originated from a single IP address and believe one person is behind them, the station reports.
“While this was a hoax, and that’s how it was reported, and here we are in another day, the trauma that these teachers and these students felt is so real,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a former educator, said during a press conference Thursday, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
Walz described how his 15-year-old son received real-time video from friends hiding in closets at Mankato West High School, the school where the governor taught.
Schools in North Carolina and Colorado have also seen recent outbreaks of swatting incidents, according to local media.
A count by local Fox affiliates found that more than 30 incidents of swatting occurred at schools across the country between Sept. 14 and Sept. 21, according to KMSP-TV.
said Jay Farlow, a spokesman for the National Association of School Resource Officers Newsweek in an email that the group did not have detailed numbers on false reports to schools.
Farlow said that after a hoax incident on Sept. 13 in Houston, news reports indicate there have been similar incidents in more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia.
Chaos erupted outside a San Antonio school Tuesday after a false report of an active shooter. The city is near Uvalde, the site of one of the worst mass shootings in US history in late May, and where police have been criticized for being too cautious about the incident as it unfolded.
As San Antonio’s Jefferson High School went into lockdown, parents clashed with police trying to force their way in, reports San Antonio Express-News. A man cut his hand trying to break a window to get into the school.
“I definitely got here fast. I left work and came fast,” Pete Vela, the parent of a 15-year-old boy, told the newspaper. “At the end of the day, if there was someone in there, then 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 false reports often accompany mass shootings because some students see the threats as a way to get attention.
But he told the news outlet that repeated lockdowns can reduce the preparedness of school staff and students for a real threat, while also disrupting learning.
“You have a lot of quick response, anxiety and messages going out, people struggling to find their children,” Klinger said. “It happens a lot more than we think and has a much bigger impact.”
Newsweek The FBI has been contacted for comment.