Swatting and School Lockdowns

SWAT team

By Judy Berman

A disembodied voice, filled with urgency, came over our speakers, announcing a Code Red.

It was a school lockdown. We were told to lock our classroom doors. I don’t remember if we were told to shut off the lights, too, but I did.

This happened earlier this month. There was no time to find a safe refuge. We stayed in our rooms, listening for any unusual noise.

We were victims of “swatting.” The FBI says “swatting” is making a hoax call to 9-1-1 to draw a response from law enforcement, usually a SWAT team.

As it turned out, this was a cruel hoax allegedly perpetrated by a teen in Canada. Another teen at Melbourne High School, not far from our school, is accused of being part of this teen “swatter” crime as well.

But we didn’t know this at the time.

Students are well-aware of tragedies that have happened at other schools. Mass shootings, terror and heartbreak. It’s hard to tune these events out when you’re in a darkened room and unsure what’s going on.

We heard a loud clang outside. My students questioned what it was. I dismissed it as “probably just thunder.”

Jennifer Brown Ontiveros, who co-taught this class with me that day, also minimized the disturbance. Together, we helped our students relax.

It’s in these moments that I find my calm center and dark humor serve me well. They act as a shield to mask what I really feel.

A female student, sitting on the floor, looked up at me. I flashed my most convincing and reassuring smile.

“It’s been nice knowing you, Mrs. Berman,” she joked.

My comeback? “Well, we all have to go sometime.”

I’ve heard about students who have meltdowns in a situation like this. Teachers, too, have been known to crumble during these real and pseudo-emergencies.

But our room was almost Zen-like. As we waited, a fan blew a few papers off the students’ desks. I edged cautiously over to the knob that controls the fan and shut it off.

Many “what-if” scenarios rushed thru my mind.

Fortunately we were safely lifted out of limbo 40 minutes later. We were told that everything was all right, and students moved on to the next class.

Crime Scene tape - Do Not Cross

Police arrested a Canadian teen last week who they said “used Twitter to solicit targets across North America,” according to a May 13th story in “Florida Today,”

A student at Melbourne High is accused of contacting the Canadian teen to place a call about a false emergency so he could avoid taking a state test.

Both teens were arrested. Ottawa Police Service charged the Canadian teen “with 60 crimes, including uttering death threats, conveying false information with intent to alarm, public mischief and mischief to property,” the paper reported.

Of 30 hoax emergency calls, the 16-year-old Canadian “swatter” is suspected of making, four of the false threats affected Melbourne High and other schools in our area.

The crime carries serious penalties. It’s no joke, especially to those whose lives are disrupted by someone pulling a “prank.”

I’m just relieved and grateful that no one was harmed.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo: SWAT Team, taken Oct. 27, 2009, by Oregon Department of Transportation http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b7/SWAT_team_prepared_%284132135578%29.jpg/640px-SWAT_team_prepared_%284132135578%29.jpg

Photo: Crime Scene tape – Do Not Cross, taken March 25, 2009 by Yuri Kimua from Yokohama, Japan http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3d/Do_Not_Cross%2C_Crime_Scene.jpg/640px-Do_Not_Cross%2C_Crime_Scene.jpg

Article: Canadian teen arrested in Melbourne High bomb scare http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/crime/2014/05/12/swatting-melbourne-high-hoax-swat-team-deployed/8996873/

Article: The crime of swatting http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2013/september/the-crime-of-swatting-fake-9-1-1-calls-have-real-consequences/the-crime-of-swatting-fake-9-1-1-calls-have-real-consequences

 

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37 thoughts on “Swatting and School Lockdowns

  1. This is sad, disturbing, criminal. Sorry you and your students had to deal with it, Judy. Our world is now the playground for fractured psyches and uncontrolled actions. And we all have those awful tragedies that have already occurred in our minds as what the ending could be where we live, every time.

    1. I know that you dealt with something similar in the Syracuse area recently. It is disturbing that any one would take out their anger or warped view of “fun” on innocent school children. What’s even more alarming are the twisted souls who deny things like this happen … or could happen. (That played out in Sandy Hook recently.)

  2. Thankfully it was a hoax and not real. There are too many of these. Back in my day the bad or unhappy kids just skipped school. They didn’t come back with guns. What happened?

    1. I wish I knew the answer, Kate. About 2007-08, our school had more than 10 bomb threats that disrupted our school day. Students and teachers walked over to a neighboring school and hung out there outside until we got the all-clear. Sometimes, that took hours. The shutdowns were all the result of hoaxes. In every case, the students were caught, expelled, and suffered the legal consequences.

      I really can’t fathom what those students were thinking. Disturbing.

      1. Your story brings the violence in our schools (pseudo and real) up close and personal. I won’t presume to know “What happened?” as your commenter Kate asks. But I do know that when principals swatted the behinds of naughty students, this nonsense did not happen so frequently. While I am not advocating physical abuse of students, firm discipline is sometimes necessary.

        I admire your cool: Calm center and dark humor, just what students need in these crucial moments.

        comment from earthrider to Marian Beaman:
        I get that cool from my Mom and Grammy (her Mom). Probably my Dad, too. It served them well … and, me, too!

  3. Great post, Judy, especially the part about your sense of humor kicking in.
    In your response to Mark’s reply, you refer to a similar incident in CNY, Cazenovia, to be exact. If you haven’t read Liz Doran’s story on it, I’ll be happy to send you the link.
    In the meantime, I can only say with a sigh that such incidents made me long for the good old days, when we only had to worry about the Russians bombing our school. I can still remember being in a “defense drill” in the early ’70s — everyone in the hall, their hands raised and touching the wall. (I don’t know what good that would have done, and it might have only helped the Russians if they had designed their bombs to frisk us before incinerating us.)
    And I also remember the “Fallout Shelter” sign at the door to St. Vincent’s school. I guess we were all supposed to hide in the cafeteria and be fed there. From what I remember of the chef’s Shepherd’s Pie, I would have gladly opted to take my chances with the Russkies.

    1. Thanks, Mark. I did read Liz Doran’s story via a link on Facebook and wrote a message to her about it. Unfortunately, there’s far too many of these hoaxes.

      We had a different type of torture when we had “emergency drills” at Allen Road Elementary in North Syracuse. Our method of protection from “the bomb” was to duck underneath our desks. Foolishly, I bought that advice then. Flying glass? Vaporized and only our shadows remaining on the walls? (Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” in “The Martian Chronicles.”) After hearing comedian Robert Klein, I now find this precaution ill-advised and hysterical.

      Love your comment on taking your chances with the Russkies rather than consuming the chef’s Shepherd’s Pie. 😆

  4. I am so glad you have kept your sense of humor and lightness to help others to not feel so scared in such a treacherous situation! Judy, you are a force to reckon with, I can tell in your writing that you would protect your classroom, in a quiet and calm way, like you did by turning off the fan. Just that little detail showed your concern for all things. It is sad that people think calling in prank calls if ‘funny’ or they ‘get off on them.’ Just mean!

  5. It is regrettable that so much time and energy and expense society has to invest to protect ourselves from the actual tragedies and the hoaxes. Sadly they are this generation’s fire drills. Never saw a school have a fire though but the actuality of violence has a very real possibility these days.

    1. The cost – emotionally and financially – is huge. For law enforcement, their officers are responding to a potential crime scene. If it was a hoax, taxpayers’ money has been wasted as well as the response time those officers could have spent elsewhere.

      The potential for violence is unsettling. Thanks for your comments, Carl.

  6. For us in Colorado–and probably everywhere–reality took on a grim face with Columbine. Our high school and Columbine competed in the same debate competitions and some of the same sporting events; parents and teachers and students from both schools knew each other.
    From that day forward–and then compounded by the theater shootings in Aurora last year–no one questions a lock down. And no one can risk considering it just a joke when an adult, or a child, makes a ‘hit list’ or threatens to hurt or kill others. The potential for violence is indeed unsettling, and I’m afraid it hasn’t even begun to reach its peak yet.

    1. You are much closer to this scary reality than others, Marilyn. I cannot comprehend the trauma caused by sociopaths acting out their violent fantasies.

      The threats made to Melbourne High were alarming. Each one was more disturbing than the previous one. School officials and law enforcement did take it seriously and reacted appropriately. What made this hoax worse was how it began. A Canadian teen, allegedly, perpetrated this ‘swatting’ for kicks and others, who must have considered it just a “cool prank,” solicited the teen to make threats at their school to shut it down.

      Just how many times can you yell “wolf” before no one listens?

  7. Mom,
    Sometimes I wonder where did it all go wrong! When did this kind of “prank” or act of extreme violence become an everyday occurrence?
    When did those who were bullied decide that the best way to handle the situation was to kill as many people as they could before killing themselves? I was bullied in school as you remember and never did those kind of thoughts cross my mind, the only thing I ever wished was that my sister and her friends would beat them up in my honor!
    I am not sure what the solution is and I just hope the kids don’t become desensitized to these drills should a real situation occur.
    Keep that dark wit and calm, and stay safe!

      1. Well you are my Mommy and I will worry if I want to!

        comment from earthrider to msdiznee2000:
        I think that’s my job (to worry about you and not vice versa). 😉 But thank you. It’s great to know you have my back.

  8. How good for you and the students, that you have that ability to stay calm and witty. I’m sure it will assuage a lot of lasting trauma. The after-effects must be so much worse when people around you are freaking out.

    I think the difference–between the bomb drills and fire drills of past generations, and today’s swatting lockdowns–is that we knew we were going through a drill, a practice, not the real tragedy. (Plus they lasted a few minutes, not 40). A lock-down is real, and holds prolonged and real potential for terror.

    There are so many factors that make society a much different place today than it was as recently as 20 years ago. It don’t feel to me as if we’ve progressed; it seems like our has digressed into a more violent, less compassionate culture.

    I echo Jenn’s wish: stay safe.

    1. What’s the saying? If you can remain calm while others around you are freaking out, then you just don’t understand the situation. 😉

      Thank you, Tracy, for your thoughts and concerns. My mantra is: “Stay Calm and Carry On.” I will try to be safe as well. 😉

    1. Ronnie, I agree, a “few” teens do things for “giggles” without thinking about the consequences for their actions. But it’s difficult to give those who do disrupt schooling a pass when they are aware of the tragedies at some schools that have affected kids their age.

      In 2007-08, our school had about ten bomb threats. Someone thought it was fun to do and they got out of class for a while. For the majority of students, it got real old real fast. We had to be evacuated for hours – each time – while police officers and their dogs checked the building before we got the all clear to return.

      All those students involved were caught, expelled and faced legal consequences.

  9. I remember air raid drills as a child where we had to get under our desks in the 1960’s and accompanying literature for the duck and cover. People we knew talked about their nuclear fallout shelters.There, food and water was stored, much like we do for hurricanes in Florida. There was fear then, as now. It felt different in the sense that gun ownership then, was typically for hunting responsibly, for deer. etc. The fear our children have of humans from their community coming into their schools armed and ready to kill, is different from what I experienced growing up, a “far-away” evil. Since our children have to endure this fear in a way that we did not, I was happy to learn of the Victory over Violence global network. Information can be found at vov.com
    It provides tools that can empower people, especially youth,in our uncertain society,

    1. Lisa, there are times when I am calm, cool and collected. Then, there are others when I’m not. My survival instincts usually kick in when I’m in a stressful situation. I’m also glad it was a false alarm. Thank you for your comments.

  10. I’m so glad you were all okay, Judy. It’s a scary situation to be in. It’s hard to know how anyone will react in a situation even with preparation. We have all sorts of drills at school and some that haven’t been drills. I try to use my humor to keep my students calm, too.
    One year we had a lock down drill. I was in a tiny office with 3 other students. There was really no where to go to be out of sight and the window on the door didn’t have blinds. I told the kids to crawl under the table with me. As we sat there all squished together. They told me that their teacher last year hid them in the corner and stood in front of them. I reminded them that last year’s teacher is almost 6 feet tall. I am less than 5 feet tall and would not make an effective shield since they were all bigger than me. The conceded that I had a good point and we squished together a bit tighter.

    1. Good call, Paprika, on your choice. 😉 I’m glad the students in my room were OK in our cramped corner.

      Thank you for your concern. I’m relieved that we weren’t at the high school near us where four threats were made within 3 weeks. Public safety was a definite concern there. Having been thru something similar at our school in 2007-08, I wouldn’t wish that scenario on any one.

  11. I don’t understand the connection between the Melbourne boy and the kid from Ottawa. If the Florida student wanted to get out of taking a test, what were the Canadian’s twenty-nine other hoax calls about? And what was he getting out of committing these anonymous crimes? Do these things ever make any sense?

    1. My thinking: allegedly the Melbourne High teen wanted a layer between him and the person making the calls reporting the threats. The Canadian kid, allegedly, did it for kicks. The Canadian teen is accused of swatting incidents in 5 states and two countries. Here are links to stories that might provide you with more information:
      http://www.ablxboston.com/national/56108-canadian-teenager-arrested-after-more-than-30-swatting-incidents-across-the-u-s-including-a-string-of-threats-against-a-florida-high-school.html

      and another article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/twitter-user-boasted-about-swatting-incidents-at-schools/article18617583/

      I also included an article from Florida Today about this series of threats: http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/crime/2014/05/12/swatting-melbourne-high-hoax-swat-team-deployed/8996873/

  12. I can’t imagine what that must have felt like Judy – what a disturbing experience!!! I’m wondering if this might leave some students and teachers with a long term anxiety? It’s amazing how the fear of a terrible event can sometimes be greater and have more impact than an actual real event. I remember having fire drills at school, and they seemed very boring and routine after a few years, but I think I would have reacted really badly to something like this, whether it a was a hoax or an exercise. I’m amazed that you and your student were able to share a kind of a joke, I guess it might lighten the atmosphere! I really hope this is the last one of these you ever get to experience, and you have peaceful school days from now on. 🙂

    1. Suzy … We were fortunate that the kids took the drill seriously and, at the same time, were very cool, calm and collected about it. I’m thankful that my students are as warped as I am. 😉 That makes potentially stressful events so much easier to deal with.

      I also hope that this is not repeated. Kids just don’t need this anxiety on top of whatever else they’re dealing with. We have 3 school days – final exams – left.

  13. So sorry to hear that. That is a very scary experience. I can’t even imagine how someone can create such a prank after the seing the horrific school massacre in the past. These teenagers are so insensitive and I’m glad they were arrested. Something like that should never be tolerated. It is a form of mental, psychological terrorism and the government should implement due punishment for such a crime. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Island Traveler … I agree. I don’t see how any caring, compassionate person could look at these events in the news and think that this would be a great idea to try out. There are far too many of these types of events happening, whether it’s at a school, a theater, or shopping areas.

  14. I echo your daughters words…where did it all go wrong? I am so glad this was a hoax, but sorry you and your students had to undergo that trauma. The penalty better be harsh. I sometimes wonder whether too much freedom and mollycoddling is the cause.

      1. It is, even from this far away. And I cannot comprehend the opposition to gun control laws!!

        comment from earthrider to Madhu:
        Me, neither. But there are powerful lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) who view any restrictions as threatening the right to bear arms. The NRA has succeeded in getting laws passed in some states – like Florida – an open carry law and a broader version of Stand Your Ground. To me, that’s like the Wild West, a license to kill.

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