Swatting scares swarm Fla. schools ahead of Parkland shooter sentencing

Schools were locked down on both sides of the state, including at least one that had just reopened after Hurricane Ian.

Police across Florida raced to multiple schools Tuesday to investigate “swatting” reports of active gunmen just as a jury began weighing the death penalty for Parkland mass shooter Nikolas Cruz. Photos posted to social media showed a heavy police presence at Riverview High School in Sarasota after a 911 caller claimed the building was under attack.

Deputies had to ram the campus’s main gate to gain quick access to the school, allowing nearly 50 officers to begin clearing the school within minutes, authorities said. “This afternoon was overwhelming for parents, students and community members alike,” the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office wrote on social media. “Although this may have been a “hoax,” it was treated, by all accounts, like a real, active incident.”

To add insult to injury, the high school had just reopened on Monday for the first day of classes since Hurricane Ian devastated Florida’s southwest coast last month. Some schools in Sarasota County are not set to reopen until next Monday, Oct. 17.

Schools across the country are being victimized almost daily by swatting, a hoax in which a caller reports an active shooter or similar emergency in hopes of drawing a large police response—in particular, a SWAT team—and spreading terror at the targeted school, private home, business or other location. Last week, dozens of schools in South Carolina were locked down and disrupted after a TikTok challenge encouraged users to call in active shooter hoaxes.

Just north of Sarasota, Pinellas County Schools, which covers St. Petersburg, received “several threats” about active assailants. The district takes each report seriously, administrators said on social media.

On the state’s east coast, Miami-Dade County Public Schools locked down buildings that were hit with at least three swatting calls, CBS Miami reported. Authorities believe all of the calls came from the same source. “Unfortunately this morning we had three schools targeted with the hoax threats to shoot up the schools,” Miami-Dade schools police Chief Edwin Lopez told CBS Miami. “These hoax threats cause a big problem for us here law enforcement because it drains our resources.”

Administrators warned on social media that the hoaxes are considered federal crimes. “Parents, speak to your children about the lifelong consequences,” the district said on Twitter.

Broward County Public Schools placed all of its high schools on “secure status” as police investigated threats made to multiple campuses. One local police department said it responded to swatting calls at two high schools in the county, reporting multiple officers on scene at West Broward High School.

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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