Hundreds of schools have been subjected to fake calls about school shootings over the past year, The Washington Post reports. The FBI is investigating the calls, which have generated an aggressive response by local law enforcement. The wave of school shooting hoaxes is without precedent, education safety experts and law enforcement officials say. It’s part of a larger phenomenon known as “swatting,” where callers report nonexistent crimes with the goal of triggering a police response — preferably by SWAT teams — at the homes of enemies or celebrities. The shooting hoax calls often come in waves, with multiple schools in a state targeted on the same day, and most are “remarkably similar,” said Drew Evans, superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. More than 20 schools in the state were targeted in two separate incidents, one in September of last year and another this February.
Many of the calls have followed a distinct pattern. A male voice says he is inside a school and that multiple students are shot. Many times, he claims to be a teacher. He says he is in a particular classroom or a bathroom, and tells the police to hurry. He speaks with a heavy accent. The calls first come in on non-emergency lines and are not recordings: The speaker interacts with dispatchers and responds to their questions. Police reports show that the caller used free internet-calling services that allow anyone with an email address to make calls that appear to be coming from a U.S. number. In incidents in at least 12 states, the numbers were provided by TextNow, a Canadian company that offers free calls using voice over internet protocol, or VoIP. In November 2022, TextNow blocked the entire country of Ethiopia from its service, the company said, after determining it was a source of significant malicious activity. Still, the hoax calls kept coming.