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Minnesota swatting incidents part of nationwide spate of hoax calls to schools

Schools across the country have experienced false calls regarding active shooters in recent weeks, prompting law enforcement to investigate the matter. In Minnesota, 15 schools, from Rochester to Cloquet received hoax calls this week.

"Swatting" incident at Lourdes High School
Law enforcement officers respond to a reported active shooter situation at Lourdes High School on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, in Rochester. The call was determined to be a hoax, according to officials at the scene.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — At least 15 Minnesota schools from Rochester to Cloquet received hoax active shooter calls Wednesday, Sept. 21, Commissioner of Minnesota Department of Public Safety John Harrington said during a news conference Thursday.

Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin said that while hoax calls like the one to Lourdes High School are not common in Rochester they can still cause issues.

“Hoax calls can potentially disrupt the response capabilities to real public safety emergencies and illicit panic and fear that can have long-lasting effects on a community, neither of which occurred yesterday due to the rapid response and quick assessment of the situation at hand,” he said. “Our investigations team actively investigates all hoax calls and collaborates with state and federal investigators as necessary.”

The response by local law enforcement in Rochester stands in stark contrast to the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where law enforcement is accused of botching their response in a school shooting incident that rocked the nation and left 21 dead.

Less than 4 minutes after the initial call was placed of an active shooter at Lourdes, law enforcement had arrived on scene and the building was cleared in less than 30 minutes.

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Olmsted County Sheriff’s Capt. James Schueller said at least 65 squads headed toward the call and that a significant portion of sheriff office staff was actually gathered together that day for quarterly training.

“Everyone suited up and headed out once the call came in,” Schueller said.

Austin High School also got hit with a fake swatting call, according to Austin Police Chief David McKichan.

His department had a school resource officer on site at the school along with a detective and two officers who were close by and able to respond to the call immediately.

Austin's law enforcement center, which holds both the police department and the Mower County Sheriff's Office, also sits a few blocks from the school, which allowed a quick response from both agencies.

While law enforcement was able to determine there was no threat at the specific location given by the caller, McKichan said sometimes people give incorrect information under stressful situations, so law enforcement cleared the entire school.

Hoax calls like this aren't common in Austin but they have received hoax bomb threats in the past.

"There's a lot of different thoughts and feelings going on when a call like this comes in before we can determine that it's not, in fact, factual," he said.

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The calls to local schools were similar to a number of calls across the country in recent weeks, hitting schools in Virginia , Colorado , Arkansas, California, Florida, Missouri and Texas causing the Federal Bureau of Investigation to get involved.

“The FBI takes swatting very seriously because it puts innocent people at risk. While we have no information to indicate a specific and credible threat, we will continue to work with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to gather, share, and act upon threat information as it comes to our attention,” Cyndi Barrington, public affairs officer for the Minneapolis division of the FBI wrote in an email to the Post Bulletin. “We urge the public to remain vigilant, and report any and all suspicious activity and/or individuals to law enforcement immediately.”

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating the hoax calls that occurred in Minnesota while working with local partners across the state.

Investigators believe the calls came from one person due to a common IP address associated with the internet based calls, according to Harrington.

"It's really something that needs to be looked at criminally," McKichan said. "It's not a prank when it happens like that. That's the way too light of a term to use just because of what it creates, even in the absence of something real happening."

Mark Wasson has been a public safety reporter with Post Bulletin since May 2022. Previously, he worked as a general assignment reporter in the southwest metro and as a public safety reporter in Willmar, Minn. Readers can reach Mark at mwasson@postbulletin.com.
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