After just a few minutes of classes having began at Sanford High School, the local dispatch center received a call from someone claiming to be a teacher. They stated they were confined in the staff room and that a gunman with a “long gun” had hurt numerous pupils.
As word of the incident spread, students and faculty members quickly barricaded themselves in classrooms and closets as police from Sanford and other towns rushed to the school. Some kids started sending their parents “I love you” texts.
A similar report came in from Portland High School, where students were filling the hallways between classes eleven minutes after the call about Sanford High. Teachers ushered their pupils into classrooms, hallways, and closets when a lockdown was issued. All of the city’s law enforcement converged on the school immediately.
As children were still being evacuated and classrooms at the two schools were emptied by armed personnel, law enforcement authorities decided the calls were a hoax within an hour. From York County through Aroostook County, a total of 10 calls were made to police alleging shooters in schools.
According to public declarations and government social media postings, threats were recorded at Sanford, Portland, Brunswick, Ellsworth, Houlton, Winslow, Wiscasset, Gardiner Area high schools, Fort Fairfield schools, and Oceanside High School in Rockland. Authorities in Sanford have said that the FBI is now in charge of the investigation.
Michael Sauschuck, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, said that no school shootings had occurred and that none of the calls had been genuine. He made his comments outside of Sanford Regional High School, calling the calls a “inhumane and heartless” attack on the children and towns of Maine.
While swatting hoaxes are on the rise nationally, this is the first time Maine has had to deal with a widespread incident. All levels of law enforcement are now searching for the man caller or callers who made the hoax claim using an internet phone.
The Educator’s School Safety Network, an Ohio-based group that tracks and investigates school violence and threats, estimates that there have been at least 181 identical swatting events in schools throughout the nation this school year prior to Tuesday. Amy Klinger, the organization’s co-founder, said that erroneous reports usually include many schools all at once.
“The difficulty is that schools cannot presume, particularly at the outset, that it is a prank and not actually occurring,” she added. There are just a few minutes to decide what to do in the event of an active shooter report. It’s better to be cautious than sorry.”
According to Klinger, the end outcome is a comprehensive tactical reaction with far-reaching and devastating consequences.
U.S. Attorney Darcie N. McElwee said in a statement on Tuesday that “Maine is the latest state to fall victim to a wave of’swatting’ attacks, with several towns today experiencing the terror that has been felt by so many around the nation.” Unfortunately, hoaxes like the one we saw today have the potential to make people doubt the veracity of future threats. It’s critical that we all keep our guard up.
The school issued a letter to parents while Sanford police searched the facility and evacuated children, assuring them that the active shooter threat was not thought to be genuine and that no one had been hurt. However, the dissemination of misinformation on social media only served to increase parents’ worries.
Parents reported hearing from their kids in a Facebook community for city dwellers. Almost immediately, word spread that five individuals had been shot.
“The fact that we have social media and telephones, that information gets circulated — and a lot of times it can be distorted,” Sanford Police Lt. Matthew Gagne said.