Swatting scare: Active shooter hoaxes derail dozens more schools

Swatting hoaxes this week led police to crash their cruiser through one school's front door while Vermont's governor likened the deeply disruptive pranks to terrorism.

The latest barrage of swatting hoaxes led police to crash their cruiser through one school’s front door while Vermont’s governor likened the deeply disruptive false shooting reports to terrorism. The goal of the swatting pranks, which have closed dozens of schools and forced lockdowns over the last year, is to draw a large police response to a specific location—in these cases, the nation’s public and private schools.

Police officers in Michigan responding to a report that an active shooter had shot two students rammed their patrol car through the locked front doors of Nouvel Catholic Central High School near Saginaw on Tuesday morning, WNEM reported. The incident forced the nearby public district, Saginaw Township Community Schools, instead “secure mode” while police investigated.

K12 schools in Detroit, Jackson, Ann Arbor, and Okemos were also hit with swatting hoaxes on Tuesday, according to the Michigan State Police. One of those districts, Okemos Public Schools, was closed Wednesday to give students and staff time to recover, Superintendent John J. Hood said in a message to the community. “The feedback from law enforcement is that the response from our students and staff was excellent and we can attribute this to our diligent focus on safety and security,” Hood added.

Communicating a threat of terrorism is a felony in Michigan punishable by a 20-year prison sentence while falsely reporting a crime could land a prankster in jail for three months, state Attorney General Dana Nessel pointed out.

“Threats of violence in our schools disrupt the classroom, tax our local law enforcement agencies and harm our students’ sense of safety,” Nessel said. “Whether these are real threats made by those intent on doing harm or pranks made by kids trying to get a day off, they are real crimes with real consequences. It’s critical that adults and students alike understand the seriousness of these threats and the criminal charges they could face.”

In Vermont, multiple law enforcement agencies across the state received reports of school shootings on Wednesday—none of which was found to be credible. The calls originated from VOIP phone numbers or potentially spoofed numbers with Vermont’s 802 area code, the Vermont State Police said. The hoaxes sent police scrambling to Brattleboro Union High School in the southern end of the state and—near the Canadian border—to North Country Union High School, which was forced into a lockdown, VT Digger reported.

In the state’s capital, more than 35 officers had responded to Montpelier High School within 10 minutes of receiving a call claiming there was an active shooter in the building, Superintendent Libby Bonesteel said in an extensive report to the community on the swatting incident. Once the building was deemed safe, Principal Jason Gingold and a police officer went classroom to classroom to tell all students and staff that the school was secure and there was no danger.

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Students were sent to their teacher advisory classes to discuss their feelings about the hoax. The school’s food service staff whipped up comfort food—mashed potatoes and garlic knots—and students were dismissed at noon. “It was a day of extreme stress and worry,” Bonesteel said. “It was also one of affirmation and collaboration.

Swatting hoaxes unnerve everyone—students, teachers, parents and all Vermonters, Gov. Phil Scott said. “These calls were a hoax—an act of terrorism designed to create chaos and stoke fear that can be exploited,” Scott continued. “We can use this energy to come together because unity is the most powerful way to ensure terrorists do not achieve their goals.”

Swatting hoaxes also struck this week at public and private schools in Southern California and Florida, according to published 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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