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False 'Swatting' Threats To Schools May Have Doubled In A Year

As many communities struggle with mass shootings, malicious actors increasingly are targeting schools with false reports of shootings, using the fear of gun violence and 911 calls to afflict terror about another potentially deadly incident, reports ABC News. Callers have caused confusion and delays, prompted police to expend vital resources and exposed the vulnerabilities of schools to future shootings. Commonly called "swatting," these incidents use technology to disguise phone calls that signal a threat, often prompting a local Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team to a specific address, say the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. "Somebody just shot seven students in the bathroom," a caller told the Onondaga County, N.Y., 911 Dispatch Center on March 30. Officers from four law enforcement agencies with long rifles and tactical gear rushed toward Westhill High School in Syracuse, N.Y. The call would later be deemed a hoax.

"The hardest part about any situation like this is everyone has a little bit of information," said Westhill Central School District Superintendent Stephen Dunham. "No one has all the information." No student had been shot in the bathroom, yet parents and community members who learned of law enforcement's response feared their school might be the next target of a mass shooting. On March 30 alone – the same day as the Westhill High incident – 226 schools across New York state received 36 false reports of mass shooting incidents, according to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer. The number of swatting calls to schools has at least doubled over the last year, said James Turgal, former chief information officer of the FBI and now with information security company Optiv. Experts said swatting incidents are similar to the rise of school bomb threats in the 1990s. Mo Canady of the National Association of School Resource Officer said swatting calls attempt to mimic what a "victim" of a fabricated shooting would tell authorities, while bomb threats are commonly made from the perspective of the person who placed the fictional bomb. A person who planted a real bomb has little incentive to call in a threat to clear people from their target.


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