MANDATA — The threat of a shooting at Line Mountain Middle/High School Friday afternoon turned out to be a case of “swatting” — a hoax phone call intended to draw large numbers of police and emergency services to a location, and the call originated in Indiana, state police initially said.
The threat and the fact that it was originally reported over county emergency communications at 2:02 p.m. as an “active shooter” incident drew dozens of police units from as far as Mount Carmel Township, as well as at least 10 medic, ambulance and firefighting units from throughout the region to the rural school.
“The threat was made from Indiana and has been verified by authorities in that state,” Trooper Rick Blair reported to media via email at 3:38 p.m. “There is no danger to the school or public at this time,” he wrote.
Line Mountain superintendent of schools Dave Campbell expressed his appreciation to law enforcement for their tireless efforts in working the incident.
“We’re so thankful for our state and local police whose response was outstanding and thorough. They focused on our students safety and left no stone unturned,” said Campbell.
“Our faculty and students were exemplary throughout the lockdown and we’re also proud of the entire community and how they responded,” he added.
He also expressed his satisfaction with the school’s emergency response system.
“I think the ability of our emergency response system to communicate with parents via automated calls, texts and tweets certainly proved its worth in this instance. The quicker we can get the facts out, the better. The one blessing in the whole incident is that it wasn’t related to anyone here at our school or in the local community.”
Campbell said the district was informed that further investigation by authorities found the entire hoax to be the result of a robocall generated from out of state and that the alleged suspect and location of Indiana may have been randomly selected as a dupe.
Many swatting cases originate with online video gaming, where one player who knows the location of an opponent will call in an emergency to that address and then, in some cases, be able to watch through the video connection as authorities storm the building. The term “swatting” is derived from the fact that SWAT (special weapons and tactics) units often respond to such calls.
Early reports over emergency communication included discussions about the caller being in a red pickup truck in the parking lot, but that apparently was part of the false information given by the “swatter.”
No one was injured.
School goes into lockdown
A lockdown at the middle/high school began at about 2 p.m. and police soon thereafter were converging on the site. Vehicles in the parking lot were being checked.
Parents also arrived and gathered along the long driveway off Route 225 to the school complex. The original broadcast about an “active shooter” prompted much discussion and concern on social media. Route 225 would later be shut down about a mile away near the intersection with Route 147.
At 2:50 p.m. an alert on the school’s website reported “everyone is safe,” but that the lockdown would continue, and that the school was waiting for state police to OK the release of students.
An email from Blair to media at 3:19 p.m. said, “There is NOT and never was an active shooter at the school.”
Russell Fellman, county 911 coordinator, faxed a statement at 3:20 p.m. saying the 911 center and Stonington state police barracks “are both inundated with phone calls so please use patience.” A later fax asked media to advise parents of students or others with questions to not call 911.
The threat prompted other schools in the region, including Line Mountain Elementary School in Trevorton, Mount Carmel Area and Shamokin Area to go into a lockdown as well.
“It’s scary,” Katie Reader said as she stood on a corner across the street from Line Mountain Elementary School in Trevorton a few minutes before students were dismissed. Reader’s son, Landon, is a kindergarten student at the school and they live in Trevorton. “You hear about it a lot, but never think it is going to happen in your little hometown.” She also noted she has nieces and nephews at the high school.
Line Mountain later posted that high school and middle school students were to be released at 4:10 p.m. and the elementary at approximately 4 p.m. A later post said high school and middle school buses were leaving the high school at 5 p.m. and that buses would be at the elementary school at approximately 5:45 to 6 p.m.
Parents, drivers concerned
With the driveway leading uphill to the school blocked by first responders, several bus and van drivers joined the large group of concerned parents who waited in the cold for nearly two hours.
“I have a three children who attend this school — a 16-year-old, 13-year-old and 10-year-old — and I’m concerned for their safety,” said one woman, who was making calls on her cellphone trying to get more information. She declined to give her name.
“They told us they would be sending a spokesperson back down to update us but we’re still waiting,” she added.
One man, visibly upset, walked toward the school, saying that he was ready to take matters into his own hands. He was quickly turned away by police.
At 3:24 p.m. parents received a text message from the school district stating that all students would be transported home by bus once released by state police. The buses were moved from the front of the school to the rear as a staging area for the students to board.
Then at 3:50 p.m., the district texted parents and guardians, “The police have determined the threat was a hoax initiated from outside the state of Pennsylvania.”
At that point, state police informed everyone that they would be releasing students by classroom, and allowed those who drove to school to leave first in their own vehicles.
A group of special needs van drivers expressed concerns to law enforcement that they needed to get to their vehicles in order to pickup those students who require special assistance when being transported. They were permitted to do so but had to wait for the students until all of the classrooms which they were in had been dismissed.