Across the U.S., dozens of schools went on lockdown. Students and teachers hid in classrooms. Police searched campuses, and parents panicked. Each time, there was no threat. Officials report a wave of false reports of school shootings and threats of violence over the last several days. USA Today found at least 30 active shooter false alarms and threats at schools last week. These intentional false reports have similarities. Their origins can be difficult or impossible to trace, but waves of false alarms are often the work of disgruntled pranksters trying to disrupt school or malicious bad actors trying to sow fear. Such hoaxes seem to increase around this time of year with students returning to classrooms. "A red flag... is when you start seeing a chunk of these very similar threats in multiple cities in one area or region or state, and then others in another state. It's usually a red flag for what they call swatting," said Kenneth Trump, a school safety expert.
"Swatting" is making a hoax call to law enforcement to cause a large police or SWAT team response. Sometimes, an individual does it to single out someone specific, but the calls can also be done in waves as a trend to random targets. In Houston on Tuesday, authorities received a call that said two shooters were rampaging Heights High School and 10 students had been shot. Police did a room-by-room search, finding no trace of a shooting. Similar false reports happened at other schools in Texas and California that day. On Wednesday, threats on social media temporarily shuttered schools in the Thorndale Independent School District in central Texas, Eisenhower High School outside of Houston. A false shooting report put a Fresno, Ca., high school on lockdown. The same thing happened Thursday in Santa Barbara, Ca. In Northampton, Ma. a school received a bomb threat on social media. False shooting reports were called in about schools in Florida, Arkansas, Oregon, Illinois, Kansas and Oklahoma.