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Multiple South Florida schools targeted by false reports of active shooters

Police officer speaking with a young student in the hallway.
Joshua Polson
The Greeley Tribune via AP
Law enforcement officials say multiple schools across South Florida were targeted by apparent "swatting" calls — false reports that are designed to prompt a massive and immediate police response.

Multiple schools across South Florida went on lockdown on Tuesday, after receiving what law enforcement officials say were false reports of active shooters.

Police investigated calls directed at schools in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties, and say the reports appear to be hoaxes.

Vickie Cartwright, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, addressed the situation during a regularly scheduled board meeting, referring to the incident as “swatting” – when people make false reports of violence with the intent of prompting a massive and immediate police response.

“Broward County Public Schools – and I also know of at least one other school district – unfortunately, we’re being swatted,” Cartwright said. “These threats are not real. And that we are in no danger at this point in time. We’ve already verified that for the schools that have been impacted.”

Among the Broward schools directly targeted were West Broward, Pompano Beach, Dillard and Cooper City High Schools, according to a district spokesperson. All BCPS high schools were put on “secure status” on Tuesday while law enforcement investigated the threats. As of Tuesday afternoon, the district issued the all clear.

“[T]he schools have been cleared. The threats are believed to be unfounded and schools have returned to normal operations,” reads a message from the district sent out to Broward parents and guardians.

Schools targeted in Miami-Dade County include Miami Central, Ronald Reagan and J.C. Bermudez Doral Senior High Schools, according to the district. Boca Raton Community High School in Palm Beach County was also targeted.

The hoax calls and the lockdowns that followed can be disturbing and painful for students, educators and staff, at a time when school shootings have risen to the highest number in two decades, according to federal data. And the false reports are a waste of law enforcement resources, says Miami-Dade Schools Police Chief Edwin Lopez.

Officers are investigating the calls and preliminary reports suggest “these threats are coming from the same source”, Lopez said.

“We have our detectives working the case aggressively, partnering with our local stakeholders and local law enforcement partners to try and identify the culprit of these threats,” he said.

The calls come as prosecutors are making their closing arguments in the death penalty case of the Parkland shooter who killed 17 people and injured 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.

NPR has tracked a string of more than 100 similar hoax calls at schools across the country in recent weeks, which some experts say appear to be a coordinated, sustained effort.

Safety experts have told NPR they’re worried the calls could put school communities and local law enforcement at significant risk.

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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