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Fake 'Swatting' Calls About Active Shooters Causing Fear in Schools

Principal Andrew Lavier was in his office at Alamosa, Colorado's high school last fall when a police officer with his gun drawn banged on the door and ran into the school shouting about an emergency call reporting a gunman in a classroom with 10 people down. His heart pounding, Lavier rushed to the school’s intercom. “School, we are in lockdown mode. This is lockdown,” he said, prompting teachers to lock their doors, cut their lights, and huddle with students on the floor, away from windows and doors, as they trained for in drills. It was all based on a hoax 911 call, the Wall Street Journal reports. Concerned parents swarmed the school of 600 students., having been notified via email and text of the report of a shooter. With staff and students hiding in silence, it took officers an hour to inspect the campus and declare it safe. Some students were “absolutely traumatized” and tearful amid the lockdown prompted by the fake report, the principal said. Others stayed home from class the following days. The incident among a growing number of so-called “swatting” attacks at schools nationwide this school year, with some states experiencing dozens of hoax calls in a day.

The hundreds of fake emergency calls have sown fear and confusion at schools across the U.S., including one incident in Michigan where a police car crashed through a school door to gain entrance. Swatting calls have led to school lockdowns that terrorized students and led to canceled lessons and lower attendance rates. Since the start of the year, the National Association of School Resource Officers has recorded instances of hoax calls in at least 40 states. David Riedman of the K-12 School Shooting Database research project estimates that at least 100 such calls are placed each month. Groups that track the hoaxes say there is typically an increase after school shootings that draw large media attention, such as the one last month in Nashville in which three students and three adults were killed at a private elementary school. Swatting attacks on schools have become sophisticated, with callers using scripts, technology to disguise their identities and sound effects, such as fake gunshots. Kevin Klein, director of Colorado’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management identifying the source of swatting calls is difficult, and sending officers to investigate schools is perilous, “Our biggest concern is making sure no one gets hurt,” he said.

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