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How ‘Swatting’ Calls Spread as Schools Face Real Threats

Pittsburgh Police and paramedics
Pittsburgh Police and paramedics respond to Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School for what turned out to be a hoax report of an active shooter, on Wednesday, March 29, 2023 in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)


A spate of threats and false reports of shooters have been pouring into schools and colleges across the
country for months, raising concerns among law enforcement and elected leaders.

Schools in Pennsylvania were the latest targeted by so-called swatting. Computer-generated calls on
Wednesday made claims about active shooters, but it was all a hoax. One day earlier, nearly 30
Massachusetts schools received fake threats.

School officials are already on edge amid a backdrop of deadly school shootings, the latest Monday at a
Christian school in Nashville.

Here is a look at the issues involved:


Hundreds of cases of swatting occur annually, with some using caller ID spoofing to disguise their
number. The goal is to get authorities, particularly a SWAT team, to respond to an address.

An FBI official said in November that they believe the wave of false threats focused on schools may be
coming from outside of the country.

Officials said at the time 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.

The FBI didn’t immediately respond to emails Wednesday from The Associated Press seeking comment, but
the threats have continued to accumulate in recent months.


Few regions of the country have been spared from such calls and the disruptions they cause.

The false calls Wednesday in Pennsylvania led to lockdowns or evacuations in several counties,
according to state police. Law enforcement had to take each one seriously no matter how dubious it

Police in Pittsburgh, for instance, searched every room at Central Catholic High School, even after
getting word that a report of people being hurt inside wasn’t true within a minute, said Thomas
Stangrecki, the interim police chief.

“We treated it as a real incident,” Stangrecki said. Another threat at a nearby Catholic school had
worried parents gathered outside.

In Iowa, so many schools were targeted earlier this month that Gov. Kim Reynolds complained at a news
conference about the toll it was taking to confirm the terror-inducing calls are fake.

“It’s what no governor, it’s what no parent or anybody — superintendent, teachers, kids — want to
hear,” Reynolds said. “And we’re grateful and just so thankful that is what it was.”

And in Minnesota, the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension issued a warning last month after fake
calls forced eight schools into lockdown over two days.


Authorities are grappling with the false alarms in a country where mass shooters have killed hundreds
of people throughout history. Shooters have attacked in places like stores, theaters and workplaces,
but it is in schools and colleges where the carnage reverberates perhaps most keenly.

At U.S. schools and colleges, 175 people have been killed in 15 mass shootings that resulted in the
deaths of four or more people, not including the perpetrator — from 1999’s Columbine High School
massacre to Monday’s shooting in Nashville, Tennessee. That’s according to a database compiled by The
Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University, in addition to other AP reporting.


Such calls have proven dangerous and even outright deadly.

In 2017, a police officer in Wichita, Kansas, shot and killed a man while responding to a hoax
emergency call. Just this month, the city agreed to pay $5 million to settle a lawsuit, with the money
to go to the two children of 28-year-old Andrew Finch.

The hoax call that led to his death began as a feud between two online gamers. One of the gamers
recruited Tyler Barriss to “swat” the other gamer. But the address used was old, leading police to
Finch, who was not involved in the dispute or playing the video game.

Barriss was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison, while the other two gamers were sentenced to 15-
and 18-month terms.

Police in Maryland also shot a 20-year-old Maryland man in the face with rubber bullets after a fake
hostage situation was reported at his home.

The FBI in Pittsburgh nodded to the risk, noting in a statement about the school threat cases that it
“takes swatting very seriously because it puts innocent people at risk.”


Peter Smith in Pittsburgh, Ron Todt in Philadelphia, Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Lindsay
Whitehurst in Washington contributed to this report.


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