LANSING - Law enforcement and emergency management officials say despite false reports claiming violence at more than a half a dozen schools across the state on Tuesday, widespread hoaxes alleging school violence are rare.
Callers reported violence at schools in Okemos, Portage, Saginaw, Jackson, Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Detroit and Muskegon among others on Tuesday morning, but officials said none of the claims proved to be true.
After a caller reported an active shooter at Okemos High School just after 9 a.m., six police agencies, the FBI and ATF and emergency management personnel responded to the school, evacuated it and searched the building. They found no evidence of violence and school officials canceled classes for the remainder of the day and Wednesday.
"Fortunately, this was a false call that does not make it any less serious. This put a lot of fear and impact into students, community members and faculty," Meridian Township Police Chief Ken Plaga said. "It's a terrible thing."
The false reports, known as "swatting," usually involve making a hoax call to law enforcement to purposefully cause a heavy police or SWAT team response at a given location.
The Battle Creek Police Department received a 911 call Tuesday with false information about a shooting at Battle Creek Central High School. Police were in direct contact with the district's liaison officer, who was on-site at the building, and immediately identified the call as a hoax, district officials said in a Facebook post.
Harper Creek Community Schools also received a false report Tuesday of a student with a weapon at Harper Creek High School. Police determined there was no threat to student or staff safety.
"The school district in partnership with the Emmett Township Department of Public Safety was prepared prior to the incident as other false reports were being reported in neighboring counties," Harper Creek Superintendent Rob Ridgeway said in a statement. "We take any and all reports of potential threats seriously, and we are making every effort to maintain an environment where students and staff feel safe."
It's rare to see false calls regarding multiple school districts in a given day though, Michigan State Police Lt. Rene Gonzalez said.
"I don't believe we've had an incident like this within the last year of something where so many schools are being affected," he said. "Normally it'll be one school, an isolated incident."
Still, police have to take every report of violence seriously, he said.
"For any active shooter report that we get, we take the safety of the students and the faculty seriously," he said. "They're our first concern so we're going to go in and treat it as is an active shooter and go into school and clear it out."
The FBI was investigating Tuesday's rash of false shooting calls to schools. A caller with a heavy accent stated a school's name and address and claimed to be a teacher reporting that a student had shot another student in a specific classroom, state officials said.
"There is a suspicion that it's possibly connected only because it all did happen in one day and it's happening throughout the state," Gonzalez said. "It appears that they may be connected, but that hasn't been confirmed."
Some mid-Michigan school districts either took their own precautions or reassured parents they were prepared to handle potential issues Tuesday.
Just 12 miles from Okemos, school officials at Waverly Community Schools announced students and staff would "shelter in place" district-wide "Out of an abundance of precaution..." after the Okemos threat, according to a post on the district's Facebook page Tuesday.
Officials in others locations, including Charlotte Public Schools and St. Johns Public Schools, reassured parents they were aware of the false threats and prepared if they received any.
"Please know that districts across Eaton County are working with local police and our Eaton County Emergency Manager on how to respond to potential similar 'Swatting' calls if that were to happen in our district," said Charlotte schools Superintendent Mandy Stewart in an email to parents.
St. Johns Superintendent Mark Palmer expressed a similar sentiment.
"We have been in contact with local and area authorities to confirm this was a false report. Police will be checking in with buildings today as a precaution. At this point, we have no reason to believe additional actions beyond our regular security protocols need to be taken."
Eaton County Emergency Manager Ryan Wilkinson said his office coordinated with local law enforcement and area school officials on Tuesday regarding how they should respond if any threats regarding violence at school buildings come in.
School officials "consult with us regularly on their comprehensive emergency management plans, processes, procedures, training and even exercises," Wilkinson said.
The widespread hoax calls received Tuesday are rare, he said.
"I certainly hope it doesn't become a commonplace thing," Wilkinson said.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a warning Tuesday about the serious repercussions to those who make false claims of school violence.
"Threats of violence in our schools disrupt the classroom, tax our local law enforcement agencies and harm our students' sense of safety," Nessel said. "Whether these are real threats made by those intent on doing harm or pranks made by kids trying to get a day off, they are real crimes with real consequences."
In a release, Nessel noted swatting is a 93-day misdemeanor while making a threat of terrorism can carry a 20-year prison term.
Tuesday has been "a traumatic day for students, staff, and school communities across the entire state," Tina Kerr, executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators, said in an emailed statement. "While we are thankful none of the active shooter reports came to fruition and were found to be hoaxes, it's heart-breaking that they happened in the first place. Inciting fear and panic in our children and dedicated school staff are absolutely inexcusable acts."
Contact Rachel Greco at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ .
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Swatting calls at Okemos and other schools rare, officials say