Hoax Shooting Threat

Bennington Police cruiser sits outside Mount Anthony Union High School after a false report of a shooting Wednesday morning. 

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BRATTLEBORO — Mount Anthony Union High School and Brattleboro Union High School were among 21 schools across the state Wednesday that fell victim to hoax calls alleging each school was undergoing an active shooter situation.

“None of these calls have been determined to be legitimate,” said Jennifer Morrison, the commissioner of Vermont Public Safety, during a press conference called by Gov. Phil Scott at noon.

Morrison said the calls came into 20 law enforcement agencies in Vermont and to one town clerk’s office between 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.

In Bennington, police said they received a false report of two student shootings — one at Grace Christian School and one at Mt. Anthony Union High School.

According to a posting by the Bennington Police Department, they responded immediately and determined the reports were false. Police stressed that there were no injuries of students or staff at either school.

“Investigators determined this was a ‘Swatting’ or hoax type call from a computer generated telephone number,” says a statement from the Bennington Police Department. “Swatting or hoax is when someone falsely reports a serious event to illicit a swift police response.”

Katie West, public information coordinator for Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, said the hoax call led to an immediate shelter in place.

“Following a swift response from BPD and our Incident Command Team, the shelter in place was lifted at approximately 9:20 a.m.,” the SVSU said in a statement sent to students, staff and families.

West noted there will be an increased police presence at Mt. Anthony Union High School through the end of the day and that clinical services will be made available to all students.

That scenario played out in Brattleboro, as well.

“This morning we received a report of a potential threat on the BUHS campus,” said Brattleboro Police Department Det. Lt. Jeremy Evans, in an email. “BPD personnel immediately responded and collaborated with BUHS staff to determine that the campus was safe and secure.”

The BPD determined that there is no known threat to the campus and the initial report was fabricated.

“Out of an abundance of caution, administrators called for a shelter in place, and students remained in classrooms and learning continued,” stated Interim Principal Cassie Damkoehler in a news release issued just before 11 a.m. “Administrators worked with local law enforcement to determine that the campus is safe and secure. We have since resumed normal activities.”

There were no reports of threats at Twin Valley Middle High School in Whitingham, Leland & Gray Middle High School in Townshend, or Bellows Falls Union High School, Burr and Burton in Manchester, or the Arlington School District.

The Reformer has requested a recording of the 911 call to the local police department.

“The characteristics of these calls are similar in nature and appear to be part of a hoax ... sometimes referred to as swatting,” said Morrison.

Morrision noted that the Vermont Intelligence Center is not aware of any other states in the region or nation that have received similar hoax threats today.

“We are aware that other states Maine and New Hampshire in particular, have experienced similar hoax calls in recent months,” she said.

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At the Walmart in Hinsdale, N.H., on Wednesday morning, police responded after receiving a report of a bomb threat at the store.

Hinsdale Police Detective Lt. Melissa Evans said the store received a call around 6:15 a.m. about bombs planted around the building.

“She was told that there were multiple pipe bombs put around the store, and they were asking for money on gift cards,” said Evans. “We contacted (New Hampshire) Bomb Squad, who came and cleared the building with their canine.”

The N.H. Department of Safety issued a news release stating it was aware of multiple calls reporting bombs at Walmart stores throughout the state.

On Tuesday, Walmarts in Claremont, N.H., and in Berlin, Vt., received bomb threats.

The entire Berlin Mall was evacuated for two hours as the Vermont State Police Bomb Squad and Berlin Police searched the premises. They found nothing and nobody was injured.

Last week in Maine, more than a dozen districts received false calls about active shooter situations in their schools.

Other Vermont high schools that were targets of the calls on Wednesday included: Missisquoi Valley, Enosburg, Essex, Rice Memorial, Colchester, Montpelier, Otter Valley, Christ the King, Fair Haven, United Christian Academy, North Country, Randolph, Middlebury and the Alberta Community School.

St. Albans City Elementary School and North Country Union Junior High School were also targeted, said Morrison.

“We respond to all calls as if they were real and law enforcement will continue to respond to each incident, swiftly and seriously,” she said.

During the noon press conference, Scott said the hoax calls are “an act of terrorism designed to create chaos and stoke fear that can be exploited.”

“These events are unnerving for everyone — students, teachers, parents and Vermonters,” he stated.

According to the Vermont State Police, the calls appear to have to originated from VOIP phone numbers or potentially spoofed 802 numbers and appear to be associated with ongoing nationwide hoax phone threats of school shootings, bomb threats, and other violent events that have proved to be unfounded.

“This is not something new,” said Rob Evans, DPS’s liaison to the School Safety Center. “And unfortunately I’m sure it’s not the last time that we are going to experience this.”

Evans noted it’s important to acknowledge while the calls are hoaxes, they have serious consequences.

“Folks need to be thinking about the recovery,” he said. “This has a variety of unintended mental health consequences for faculty, staff, students in our parents community as well. And it’ll be important for our schools in our communities to make sure that folks know where to get those additional resources.”

“They have an impact, even when the threats aren’t verified,” agreed Daniel French, secretary of the Department of Education. “The goal first and foremost is to make sure students and staff are safe.

“This is terrorism to invoke fear and chaos in the community,” said Scott during the conference. “So I can think of no other motivation other than some depraved person or entity perpetrates these calls to upset communities and to create havoc.”


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