School threats could be latest in school 'swatting'
Threats made against schools across the United States — including one in Rochester — led to the evacuation of students Monday in what could be the latest example of so-called "swatting" against schools.
In recent months, hoaxers playing online games have allegedly used proxy servers and other high-tech identity-disguising tools to anonymously threaten schools online or in phone messages with electronic voices to trigger a huge police response, including SWAT teams.
The latest threats led to the evacuation of schools here in Minnesota, as well as some in Colorado, Utah, Delaware, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. Media outlets in the United Kingdom also reported evacuations.
The threats were made against elementary, middle and high schools, with some schools choosing to continue classes and others to put buildings on lockdown rather than evacuate. Some schools resumed classes after sweeps by authorities failed to turn up explosives or other threats.
In Rochester, students and staff members from Ben Franklin Elementary School/Montessori were evacuated after a bomb threat came in at 11:58 a.m. as an automated recording received on the main office phone.
"There was a phoned-in threat of some sort," said Rochester Police Capt. John Sherwin. The threat "sounded credible" enough to evacuate, he said.
The students and staff waited at Mayo High School while police and fire personnel searched the elementary building and the surrounding grounds. RPD's two explosive-sniffing dogs were brought to the scene.
About 1:35 p.m., law enforcement issued the all-clear, said Brenda Lewis, assistant superintendent of Rochester Public Schools, sending the students back to class.
No injuries were reported.
This morning, Sherwin said local authorities spoke with the FBI Monday after the incident.
"We believe it may be linked to the others around the country," he said, "but obviously, when it first comes in, no one knows that."
Any other circumstances, Sherwin said, "would be quite coincidental."
Local law enforcement policy "is not to tell the business or school what to do" in the event of a bomb threat, he added, "but if we're asked, we advise them to evacuate. If any actual device is found, of course, there's no question. We evacuate them."
Lakewood High School outside Denver also received an automated call just before noon. In Minnesota, Forest Lake Elementary in the city of Forest Lake was evacuated after getting a bomb-threat call about 12:15 p.m.
Students at Murray High School outside Salt Lake City were sent home, and bomb-sniffing dogs were brought in. No explosives were found.
Two elementary schools were evacuated in Colorado — Liberty Point Elementary School in Pueblo West and Cherokee Trail Elementary in the Denver suburb of Parker. Cherokee Trail is in the same district where two 16-year-old girls are accused of plotting an attack against their high school. No other schools in the district were evacuated, spokeswoman Paula Hans said.