School and law enforcement officials faced a flurry of shooting threats throughout Michigan - including in Detroit, Jackson, Ann Arbor, Okemos, Battle Creek, Portage, Muskegon and Saginaw - that authorities said turned out to be a "coordinated campaign" that the FBI is now investigating.
The Tuesday morning calls - which came a day after bomb threats to three Walmart stores in metro Detroit - put students and families on edge and tied up police resources.
They also make it all that more difficult for communities to stay vigilant.
"Threats of violence in our schools disrupt the classroom, tax our local law enforcement agencies and harm our students' sense of safety," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said. "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."
In addition to serving time in jail or prison, those found guilty of the false threat could be fined up to $50,000.00.
Renaissance High School, a public magnet high school in the city of Detroit, confirmed to the Free Press a threat was called in, but no children were at risk.
"The school was properly placed on lockdown and the building was searched and cleared of any threats," Chrystal Wilson, spokeswoman for the Detroit Public Schools Community District said. "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."
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In Meridian Township, where students and staff at Okemos High School were safe and released from class after an unknown caller falsely reported to 911 just after 9 a.m. that there had been a shooting at the building, multiple police agencies responded.
Keith Miller, a special needs teacher at the high school, saw police rush into the school and heard the lockdown alarms sound. He ran into his classroom, A-101, and officers stormed in with weapons drawn, ready to engage a shooter.
Later, local police and fire departments searched the school and found no evidence of danger.
Parents and students rushed to embrace, but many expressed fear and anger, with one mom calling the lockdown a "parent's worst nightmare," and another saying, it was a "very scary day, especially considering some of the things we see nationally as far as school shootings."
MSP: Calls were similar
Despite the panic the threats caused in some places, by about 10:30 a.m., Michigan State Police put out an alert - a kind of "all clear" - noting that several educational institutions had targeted, including high schools throughout the state as a part of a "coordinated campaign," but were unaware of "credible threats."
The calls, police said, had similar characteristics:
The caller claimed to be a teacher in the school, and said a student shot another student.
In addition, this person had some kind of accent, but police did not specify what that accent resembled or whether the person sounded male or female. The caller also gave the name and address of the school, and said the shooting occurred in classrooms with room numbers that did not exist.
The state police asked if anyone becomes aware of other incidents, please pass on the information it released.
In addition to local and state officials, the feds also have emphasized the seriousness of the false threats.
The FBI - which said the hoaxes, also known as swatting, are "serious twist on this old crime" - noted that "faking an emergency that draws a response from law enforcement - usually a SWAT team" is "dangerous to first responders and to the victims."
When callers tell tales of hostages about to be executed or bombs about to go off, it puts the entire community in danger "as responders rush to the scene, taking them away from real emergencies, the FBI has said. And the officers "are placed in danger as unsuspecting residents may try to defend themselves."
Anxiety and tip lines
Monday, two Walmart stores in Oakland County and another in Wayne County received bomb threats, according to the Oakland County Sheriff's Office. Stores in White Lake Township and Rochester Hills were evacuated and searched for explosives following threats to blow up the stores unless a ransom was delivered.
"We've seen similar things happen in different parts of the country," Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said. "In other threats, they were not credible. But out of an abundance of caution, explosive-detection dogs were sent to check the stores."
It's unclear whether there is any connection between the school shooting threats and bomb threats, or whether the Walmart threats are connected to a regional or nationwide campaign to target or to actually extort the retailing behemoth.
With increased mass shootings nationwide, schools are especially on guard.
But it's also difficult to remain vigilant, and focused, when many false threats are made all at once.
In November, as prosecutors sought a life sentence for Ethan Crumbley, a teenager, in connection with the murders of four Oxford High students, another teen - in Ferndale, a different Oakland County community - was arrested Tuesday in connection with a school threat.
The same day, nearby Hazel Park High School also went into lockdown, a result of another one.
Zooming out, the same day, there were even more shootings and shooting-related incidents across the nation.
Authorities say they aim to investigate and prosecute pranksters, and urge anyone with information about a threat - real or false - to call law enforcement or use the state's round-the-clock OK2SAY hotline by confidentially calling 8-555-OK2SAY (855-565-2729) or texting 652729 (OK2SAY).
Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or email@example.com. Mark Johnson, Krystal Nurse and Sheldon Krause with the Lansing State Journal contributed.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Hoax calls to Michigan schools a 'coordinated campaign,' police say
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