Schools respond to 'swatting' hoax

At 8:32 a.m. Monday morning, the emergency call came in - a report of an active shooter at Rock Springs High School. Law enforcement responded, placed the school in lockdown, and began clearing everyone out. All other Sweetwater County School District No. 1 schools and the Central Administration Building were placed under a Secure Hold, meaning no one could go in or out. Parents who were asked to stay away from the schools waited for updates. 

By 9:24 a.m., the school district reported that all staff and students at the high school and all district schools were safe. At 9:55 a.m., the high school was being released from lockdown and the other schools were released from the Secure Hold. 

Close to the same time, starting around 8:30 a.m., other schools and law enforcement agencies across the state were going through the same process. 

"As the investigation continued, RSPD received information that several schools throughout Wyoming received the same hoax phone calls this morning about a school shooter," a press release from the Rock Springs Police Department explained. "Unfortunately, this appears to be part of a larger trend that is occurring over much of the United States."

The multiple false reports of active school shooters put Wyoming on the list of states throughout the nation that have recently been the target of swatting calls. 

"Swatting" is defined as "the action or practice of making a prank call to emergency services in an attempt to bring about the dispatch of a large number of armed police officers to a particular address." 

Within the last year, particularly the last few months, swatting calls reporting shooters at schools have been on the rise. Schools throughout Utah were targeted last week, according to an Associated Press article by Heather Hollingsworth entitled "How 'swatting' calls spread as schools face real threats." 

According to Hollingsworth, FBI officials told the AP in November that "they had identified calls to about 250 colleges, 100 high schools and several junior high schools just since early June falsely reporting explosive devices being planted at the schools or saying that a shooting was imminent." 

At the time, an official also said the FBI believes these calls may be coming from outside of the country. 

This theory may connect to the calls received by Wyoming law enforcement on Monday. 

"When asked for additional information, the caller hung up on dispatchers," the RSPD press release explained. "The call came from an internet phone system, the source of which is still under investigation, but it is not believed that the call originated from within Sweetwater County."

"Investigators learned last week that many of the false threats at area schools in Colorado, Utah and Idaho were traced to overseas IP addresses," the Sweetwater County Sheriff's Office reported.

The Cheyenne Police Department also reported on Monday morning that they were responding to a report of a shooter at Cheyenne South High School, and noted that the call originated from a different area code. Later the CPD shared the update: "It appears similar unsubstantiated calls are being made to schools across the region."

In addition to RSHS and Cheyenne South, other schools that went into lockdown Monday morning after a report of an active shooter included Natrona County High School, Campbell County High School, Sheridan High School, Cokeville High School, Star Valley High School, Sundance High School, and Buffalo High School. 

All of the active shooter reports throughout Wyoming were proven to be unsubstantiated. Still, all law enforcement agencies followed proper procedures to make sure there was no threat.

"While we are aware that these situations have been occurring throughout the U.S. and are often initiated from outside of the U.S., every false threat must be taken seriously to protect the safety of our children and teachers," Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon said in a statement on Facebook. "These incidents are traumatic for students and staff and endanger entire communities by utilizing law enforcement resources that may be needed elsewhere. I thank members of local law enforcement and school district personnel for their quick and professional response to these reports."

"Today's radio call of a shooter at the school is the one we hope will never come," Rock Springs Police Chief Bill Erspamer said. "It's discouraging to believe that someone would find humor in this hoax, but whatever the reason, the drill only made our response stronger. Our agency, along with the Sweetwater County Sheriff's Office and other partnering agencies have combined with our school district to design and implement a response to this type of threat. Those hours of training were on display this morning. Our officers responded with urgency, and our schools acted appropriately. As in every drill, we find room to improve. We are now even better prepared, and I am confident that our officers will be quick to act if ever called upon again."  

"The Rock Springs Police Department and Sweetwater County School District 1 take all threats to the safety of our students with the utmost seriousness," the press release added. "RSPD appreciates the support and cooperation from the school district, all partner organizations, and the public during this morning's events." 

"We want to thank our local authorities for their quick response into Rock Springs High School to immediately keep our staff and students safe," officials from SCSD No. 1 posted on Facebook later Monday morning. "There was no hesitation and immediate action was taken upon the report. Thank you to our parents and students who have the communication ready to receive ParentSquare messages, and support the Standard Response Protocol (SRP). Last, thank you to our administrators and staff for their immediate action in implementing our SRP to make sure our students were safe and secure. . . We wanted to extend a deep appreciation and thank you where it is needed. Great job Sweetwater Number One Community!"


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