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State, federal agents investigating whether school threats across Michigan were coordinated

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, who's running for re-election, listens before her turn to speak at a rally for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other Democrats at Washington Park on Nov. 5, 2022, in Lansing, Michigan. (Sarah Rice/Getty Images/TNS)

Local, state and federal law enforcement teams were deployed Tuesday to at least seven high schools across Michigan after false threats known as “swatting” were made in what some officials called a “coordinated campaign,” causing students to be evacuated or sent into lockdown mode.

High schools in Detroit, Jackson, Ann Arbor, Okemos and Portage were the victims of the prank calls, State Police said. The Muskegon school district in west Michigan confirmed on its Facebook page that the high school was targeted with a “false threat.” Another threat was made to Nouvel Catholic Central High School in Saginaw Township, which was briefly placed on lockdown.

The large scale of false threats across the state prompted federal officials to respond, including the deployment of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is leading the probe into the threats, said State Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner.

“These threats continue to be an ongoing investigation,” said Tracy Morris, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “Any information on leads or suspects would be speculation at this time. We’re working closely with our local law enforcement partners associated with each school.”

Investigators reported the threats followed a pattern: The caller said the school’s name and gave its address, stated it is a teacher reporting that a student has shot another student, and provided room numbers that do not exist in the school.

The Michigan Intelligence Operations Center, a part of the State Police, and the Detroit and Southeast Michigan Information and Intelligence Center reported to Michigan school districts on Tuesday that the threats “are the actions of a coordinated campaign targeting K-12 education facilities in Michigan,” but they are unaware of any “specific or credible threats to K-12 educational facilities in Michigan.”

The ATF’s Morris said Tuesday afternoon she could not confirm that assessment.

“There hasn’t been a confirmation on that information, yet. It is part of the investigation, though,” she said.

The FBI also would not confirm or deny any details about the incidents but said it was working with local law enforcement agencies to investigate.

“The FBI is aware of the numerous swatting incidents in which an active shooter has been reported at schools across the state. FBI agents are working alongside our local and state law enforcement partners to identify the source of the hoax threats. Due to the ongoing investigation, we are unable to provide more details,” spokeswoman Mara Schneider said in a statement.

False threats exploded, impose cost

Following the wave of threats on Tuesday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel condemned the practice of swatting, where a prank phone call is made to emergency services in an attempt to​ dispatch ​law enforcement to a particular location.

“Threats of violence in our schools disrupt the classroom, tax our local law enforcement agencies and harm our students’ sense of safety,” Nessel said in a statement. “Whether these are real threats made by those intent on doing harm or pranks made by kids trying to get a day off, they are real crimes with real consequences. It’s critical that adults and students alike understand the seriousness of these threats and the criminal charges they could face.”

The Tuesday hoax threats followed a massive increase in threats against Metro Detroit schools in the wake of the Nov. 30, 2021, Oxford High School shooting, which has led to an explosion in criminal charges being brought against the alleged perpetrators and has prompted prosecutors to rethink how they handle threats cases, The Detroit News reported in December.

Educators say a false threat during the school day is disruptive, exhausting, traumatizing — and expensive. Roseville schools Superintendent Mark Blaszkowski has estimated the cost of a false threat at hundreds of thousands of dollars for increased mental health supports, security personnel and training costs.

“The costs for a second police liaison (is) about $150,000 with benefits. Increased social workers and security personnel at high school, about $200,000. … Sending personnel to training pulls resources from schools on those days. It consumes bond money for us,” he said.

The FBI also emphasized the cost of false threats.

“Hoax threats can shut down schools, cause undue stress and fear to the public, and cost taxpayers a lot of money; not to mention ruin the future of those making the hoax threats as they’ll likely have a criminal record,” Schneider said.

Threats shake Okemos families

In the Lansing suburb of Okemos, the high school went into lockdown Tuesday morning after the hoax call. A large section of Jolly Road, where the school is located, was subsequently shut down between roughly Hagadorn and Hullett roads, and police tape blocked sidewalk access to the school.

Okemos High student Sana Baig and her classmates rushed into a closet when school officials issued the security alert.

Huddled inside, Baig said it was scary and she texted her family to ask what she should do. Sana estimated she spent at least an hour hiding with her classmates.

“They didn’t tell us anything, about if it was going to be a practice or if it’s real,” Baig said. “Everyone started looking it up on their phones and it was real. It was scary.

“I saw a couple students literally having a mental breakdown, like they had to be calmed down. That was making me more scared, too. I was like, ‘This is serious,'” Baig said.

Once the school was cleared of the threat, students were sent to the football field where they waited in the bleachers. They were then bused to a nearby church where they could be reunited with family.

Sana’s father, Salman Baig, rushed to the school parking lot after hearing sirens. He said he watched a father be detained by law enforcement because he tried to enter the school in desperation, hoping to find his child.

“He got kind of unstable, screaming ‘What’s going on? My kid is there. You guys don’t care about my kid. Let me go in there,’ and they had to detain him,” Salman Baig said. “I feel bad for him because he was really (having) strong feelings. Same thing with me.”

At 10:26 a.m. Tuesday, Okemos Public Schools Superintendent John Hood released a statement that all high school students and staff were safe.

“This morning a 911 report of shots fired at Okemos High School caused Police officers to respond to the school, and our emergency procedures of building lockdown were followed. The high school building has been cleared, and no threat has been found,” Hood said. “We will be following our reunification plan for all OHS families.”

Cars were in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Bennett Road as parents sought access to a church where at least some Okemos students were being reunited with their parents.

Other communities affected

A Detroit high school was also a victim of the false threat. Detroit Public Schools Community District officials said the police were notified by a caller alleging that shots were fired at Renaissance High School.

“We now know this was a prank call,” DPSCD spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson said. “At the time of the call, the school was properly placed on lockdown and the building was searched and cleared of any threats, and there was no evidence of a shooting inside the school. Police are investigating who made the prank call. We are also working with the FBI.”

The Ann Arbor Police Department also received a call on its non-emergency line at 8:44 a.m. about a shooting at Huron High school, according to a tweet from the department.

“The call was transferred to 911, with the caller claiming to be a teacher and that a student shot another student in a classroom. AAPD responded to Huron High School within minutes of the call and conducted a walk-through of the school with staff and found no threats. The classroom number the caller also provided does not exist,” the tweet stated.

“At this time, the incident is being investigated as a ‘swatting’ call meant to evoke an aggressive response from a law enforcement agency. We want to remind the public that a false report of a crime is a very serious offense,” the tweet said.

In Portage, a suburb of Kalamazoo, a false claim of an active shooter at Portage Northern High School was phoned into the city’s department of public safety at 9:35 a.m. Tuesday, the city said in a news release.

“Due to the quick response by law enforcement and coordination with Portage Public Schools officials, it was immediately determined the threat was false,” the City of Portage said.

Matt Cortez, superintendent of Muskegon Public School, posted on Facebook that there was a false threat reported about Muskegon High School: “All threats were false and at no time were students or staff in danger. Thank you for great support, Muskegon Police.”

After a potential threat at Nouvel Catholic Central High School in Saginaw County, Saginaw Township Community Schools “went into secure mode today out of caution,” district officials said on Facebook.

Meanwhile, officials for Jackson Public Schools said on the district’s Facebook page that a lockdown at its high school was lifted Tuesday after earlier being targeted by a threat.

“We have received the all clear from the Jackson Police Department,” the post said. “This was a hoax made by an unknown Google number. We understand that this phone call has been sent to other schools across Michigan this morning.”

Michigan State Police officials acknowledged the consequences of false threats in a tweet on Tuesday, saying: “Please remember reporting a false threat against schools or businesses is a crime” and “Parents, this is a good time to remind the kids. Usually, after a large incident like this we get copycat calls for days following the incident. While some may consider it a joke, it is a good way to ruin your life if convicted of a false threat of terrorism.”

School officials from around Michigan acknowledged the threats had caused trauma and pain for students, staff and family members.

Pamela Pugh, president of Michigan’s State Board of Education, said she and state superintendent Michael Rice were monitoring the incidents.

“My heart goes out to the countless students and educators impacted by today’s senseless events and to the parents and family members caused to anxiously wait and see if their loved ones had fallen victim to another violent gun violence attack on school grounds,” Pugh said in a statement. “I am especially thoughtful of the children, educators, and families here in Michigan who have experienced such a trauma knowing that this may have been a trigger for that pain to resurface.”

Tina Kerr, executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, commended educators for moving swiftly and offering her support for the days ahead.

“This has been a traumatic day for students, staff, and school communities across the entire state,” Kerr said in her statement. “Inciting fear and panic in our children, their families, and dedicated school staff are absolutely inexcusable acts. We commend the many Michigan districts that moved with swift action to secure their buildings and protect those within their walls. MASA is here to help our district leaders digest today’s events and work to ensure they have the resources needed to keep students and staff safe.”


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