PORT ANGELES — A recorded hoax call that led to lockdowns at regional schools on Thursday was part of a larger incidence of swatting that is under national investigation, according to Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith.
“Swatting” is a term used to describe making a hoax phone call about serious crimes to emergency services agencies.
Smith spoke during a Thursday evening Zoom call set up by the Port Angeles School District after a lockdown at the district’s high school. Superintendent Marty Brewer said 110 people participated in the call.
Schools and police departments received a recorded call at abut 10:25 a.m. that led to full or modified lockdowns of Port Angeles, Sequim and Port Townsend high schools, with some middle and elementary schools on the North Olympic Peninsula also going on modified lockdowns.
Police arrived quickly at each school. It was not clear at first which school was threatened, but the school bells sounds heard in the call appeared to indicate the Port Angeles High School, authorities said.
It said that an individual with a rifle was threatening to go into the school and kill people.
“It was a very scary call,” Brewer said.
It prompted school authorities to put the campus into lockdown and later, after police cleared the grounds, release students early to go home.
PAPD Chief Smith said Thursday that what he had been told about the incident was that similar calls had been made to multiple counties sending manye schools into modified lockdowns.
“What I know about this incident, and what I have been told, is it happened in multiple counties within several minutes of each other,” Smith said Thursday.
Smith also noted that these types of calls are difficult to trace with today’s technology.
“There is a strong likelihood that the calls are not going to be traceable,” Smith said. “You can do all sorts of things now to spoof phone numbers that send call tracing to dead ends.”
Upon receiving the call, Port Angeles officers arrived within two minutes, authorities said. More than 12 officers responded, with some coming from Clallam County Sheriff’s Office and the Lower Elwha Police Department.
“By the time the first officers were on scene, the school was already on lockdown,” PAPD Sgt. Kevin Miller said.
“Everyone acted very quickly,” he added.
Officers went door to door to check for threats and remained on the scene even after the lockdown was lifted to help with getting students on buses home.
“Everything went as well as it could have,” PAPD Sgt. Dave Arand said during the meeting.
“We had excellent communication between law enforcement and school staff,” he added.
PAHS Principal Tanner Zahrt said that the lockdown created enough of a disruption to the school day to warrant the decision to send students home.
“Once the lockdown was lifted, we asked teachers to hold on to students while we decided on the next steps,” Zahrt said..
“We ultimately decided that the lockdown had been too much of a disturbance to the school day to continue,” he explained.
Many parents were already at the school to pick up their children. The district also arranged for buses to take students home.
The district had recently conducted lockdown drills in all the schools.
Brewer walked through the lockdown model that the district uses: run, hide, fight.
“We go into a system lockdown when there is any threat, ” Brewer said.
“If that threat is escalated, we move to the run, hide, fight model,” Brewer said. “If there is an opportunity to run, run; if not, hide; and as a last resort, fight.
Brewer also explained that district secured the lockdown before communicating what had happened to families.
“Communication with parents and families is a top priority, but our first priority in this situation is to potentially save lives,” Brewer said.
Port Angeles Mayor Kate Dexter released a statement saying how grateful she was that it turned out not to be a real active shooter.
”It is both disheartening and deeply disturbing that someone would choose to make false threats that cause undue fear for our children, staff and families,” Dexter said.
”I would like to thank the school district administration, high school staff, and all of our co-responding law enforcement agencies for their quick response and thorough investigation,” she added.
A similar incident was reported in Kitsap County schools last week, and news sources were reporting a swatting hoax in eastern Washington on Wednesday that led to several schools going into lockdown. Other sources have reported such fake threats at schools across the nation.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at email@example.com