What is swatting? A scary hoax that is putting schools on high alert

False reports of active shooters have caused lockdowns, disruptions and high anxiety at dozens of schools in several states this week.

A nasty and spreading hoax called “swatting” is now forcing school leaders to worry about school shootings that are not actually occurring. Swatting, by the FBI’s definition, is when someone reports a fake emergency to authorities in hopes of drawing a heavy police response to another house, business, school or other location.

Just this week, swatting calls caused lockdowns, disruptions and anxiety at dozens of schools in Colorado, Minnesota, Texas and Virginia, among other states. On Wednesday alone, schools in Minnesota dealt with at least 15 swatting incidents, according to media reports. In Rochester, Minnesota, police received a 911 call at 10 a.m. Wednesday warning of an active shooter at Lourdes High School while the student body was attending a regularly scheduled event in the school auditorium. Responders from several law enforcement agencies found no evidence of a shooter. Authorities also reported swatting calls impacting schools in surrounding Olmstead County.

Cloquet Public Schools placed its high school and middle school buildings on lockdown after local police received a call about an active shooter. Police who quickly swept the buildings found no threats. “This appears to be a situation that has affected many school districts across Minnesota today,” the district said on its website. “There have been numerous reports of schools receiving internet-based phone calls with these threats, which are unsubstantiated. It appears to be part of a hoax.”

At Apollo High School in St. Cloud, a school resource officer quickly determined the school was safe after a false active shooter report. St. Paul Public Schools also reported receiving an unfounded threat at one of its high schools. “Students are often aware of situations before adults, so please remind your child that it is important for them to immediately report concerns to a trusted adult,” the district said on its website.

The same person or group of people is likely behind all of the swatting incidents in Minnesota on Wednesday, the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension told the Pioneer Press in St. Paul.

Swatting across the country

Austin Public Schools in Texas placed all of its schools on lockdown Wednesday after police received reports of an active shooter at Austin High School. School administrators and multiple law enforcement agencies investigated and found no threats.

“While this threat was a likely hoax, we understand the anxiety a situation like this can cause for our families, students, staff and community,” Superintendent Joey Page said in a message to the community. “We take any and all reports of potential threats seriously, and we are making every effort to maintain an environment where students and staff feel safe.”

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On Monday, multiple districts in Washington, D.C., and Virginia were also hit with swatting calls. Police in Washington, D.C. determined a report of an active shooter at Roosevelt High School was a hoax.

Schools in CulpepperLoudon and Spotsylvania counties in Virginia were also hit by swatting and, as in all the other instances, the reports of an active shooter were false.

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In Colorado, the Alamosa School District was notified that an administrator at its high school had called 911 to report shots fired. The district locked down all of its schools while police “checked every classroom, closet and space and found no evidence of weapons or an armed shooter on school grounds,” Superintendent Diana Jones told the community on Facebook. “At no time was any student or staff member in danger.”

Investigators determined that no one from the Alamosa district had called 911. Several other districts in Colorado were also victimized by swatting calls, according to media reports. 

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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