PORT ANGELES — Lockdowns at Port Angeles, Sequim, and Port Townsend high schools, triggered by recorded threatening calls, were lifted Thursday after they were determined to be a hoax.
A text was sent to Port Angeles School District parents and posted on the school district website inviting the public to participate in a debrief session at 5 p.m. Thursday via Zoom https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87867022013 regarding the day’s events.
Port Angeles High School was placed on lockdown at about 10:40 a.m. after receiving a call saying a person with a rifle was entering the campus. The call was received at 10:25 a.m., with police arriving about five minutes later.
The lockdown was lifted less than 40 minutes after that, and PAHS students were being sent home by 11:30 a.m. while officers remained on scene for some time after.
Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith said the threatening call was made directly to Port Angeles High School, but it could have been part of a wider swatting issue.
“Swatting” is a term used to describe making a hoax phone call about serious crimes to emergency services agencies.
Smith cited a similar incident 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.
“What I know about this incident and what I have been told is it happened in multiple counties within several minutes of each other and there is a strong likelihood that the calls are not going to be traceable,” Smith said.
“If it’s as widespread as we have been told, it’s unlikely that the call will be easily traceable,” he added. “You can do all sorts of things now to spoof phone numbers that send call tracing to dead ends.”
Smith said this threat to schools was widespread and appears to have been well coordinated to the point where the call had background effects to make it sound like there was gunfire and a school bell.
“It was enough that it required a response and a lockdown and clearing of the school,” Smith said.
In an email to Port Angeles High School parents and in a notice on its website, the Port Angeles School District recounted the morning’s events.
“Today, at 10:40 a.m., our local police dispatch received a distressing recorded call stating that an individual with a rifle was entering the Port Angeles High School campus. In response to this alarming information, the school promptly initiated its lockdown procedures to ensure the safety of all students, staff, and faculty members,” read the email to parents.
“Following a thorough investigation by the Port Angeles Police Department, it has been determined that this incident was a hoax. There was no evidence of any armed individual or immediate threat on the premises,” the email continued.
“We understand that incidents like these not only disrupt the educational environment but also cause concern and anxiety among parents, guardians, and the community,” the email from the district said.
“We assure you that the safety and well-being of our students remain our top priority, and we are committed to taking appropriate measures to address the impact of this incident.”
The City of Port Angeles issued a statement regarding the threats to PAHS prompting the lockdown, noting that the threat followed a pattern of other calls made to schools in other districts.
“During the investigation, the threat was determined to be a hoax, with at least one other school in a neighboring county receiving the same threat call,” the email said.
“No physical evidence was found to support what was reported to PenCom. The script used during the threat call matched an alert provided earlier this week by the Washington State Fusion Center (WSFC) to Washington State 9-1-1 agencies. This incident has been reported to the WSFC as having occurred.”
Sequim Superintendent Regan Nickels said that the school district went into a modified lockdown until law enforcement confirmed the threat was at Port Angeles High School.
In an email to parents, the Sequim district announced an increase in law enforcement patrols around the school.
“Our primary concern is always for the safety of our students and staff, and we appreciate the partnership of local law enforcement in ensuring that our schools are a safe space for all to learn,” read the email to Sequim parents.
“Such incidents disrupt school and cause concern for everyone involved. We appreciate everyone’s patience and cooperation during these difficult situations.”
Port Townsend High School also received a similar threat, prompting it to place its schools in a modified lockdown but allowing classes to continue as usual during the incident.
PTHS sent a message to parents at 11 a.m. and lifted its modified lockdown shortly thereafter.
“Classes and transitions are resuming as normal,” Port Townsend School District Superintendent Linda Rosenbury wrote in a Facebook post on the Port Townsend High School page. “After an investigation, The PT Police Department and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department determined that the threat was not credible.”
Rosenbury said a threatening phone call was made to the Jefferson County Dispatch Center and, like Smith, noted that similar calls had been made to school districts across the state over the last few weeks.
“So far these calls have [not] led to any violence,” Rosenbury said.
Port Townsend High School Principal Carrie Ehrhardt briefed staff on the incident to prepare them to support students.
“All students were invited to go to the auditorium during lunch if they wanted to process together,” Rosenbury said. “Students are also encouraged to speak with a trusted adult at the school or family members with questions.
“We appreciate the cooperation of law enforcement, school staff, and students. We will continue to follow up to support students and staff in feeling safe at school.”