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‘Hoax threats’ continue to rise, joining real threats as troubling trend for Chicago students – Chicago Tribune


Hoax threats at Chicago-area schools have left students and staff worried and law enforcement on high alert, part of a troubling nationwide trend that began in September, experts say.

These threats, in addition to being disruptive and extremely stressful, can cause “threat fatigue,” experts say, and have affected various suburbs and at least one Chicago public school in the past few weeks. They become a waste of resources for law enforcement agencies and, according to experts, can cost six figures.

The FBI’s Chicago office received about 84 reports of “incidents,” meaning reports of some type of threat targeting a school, substantiated or unsubstantiated, between October 2021 and September 2022, FBI spokeswoman Siobhan Johnson said. Between January 2023 and March 3, they received about 10 incident reports per month, Johnson said.

If the reports continue at this rate, it will be about 42% growth.

According to school safety expert Kenneth Trump, there are two broad categories of school-related threats: prank calls — prank calls that try to attract a crowd of police officers to an address or location — and other threats that involve something specific to the school, or come from people or former students who have a grudge against someone or something at the school.

These other threats are easier to identify for at least two reasons, experts say: Affected students often talk to a trusted adult, and there is often a “digital footprint” that makes it easier for law enforcement to identify the person making the threat, Trump said.

Trump said that the “backlash,” as it is called from the mass actions of the police and sometimes special forces, ends up being very expensive – in the six figures. They can hit multiple schools on the same day.

Johnson could not comment on the data for the hit, but according to the word According to the FBI’s website, these threats or “hoaxes” have been going on since at least 2018, when an educational media campaign called “Think Before You Post” was published on their website.

And according to Trump, there has been a spike in assaults in schools across the country since September, including most recently in Colorado and Kansas. In Colorado, Trump said, “they timed it” to hit towns in alphabetical order within minutes.

“That seems to be the longest streak that I can remember,” said Trump, who has 35 years of experience teaching at the security school. Law enforcement agencies are more likely to “shoot down” such waves. “It wasn’t nipped in the bud.”

Closer to home, face-to-face classes were canceled for students at the Friday Elmwood Park High School after officials said there was a “potential threat” and they wanted to exercise caution.

“We received a report of a potential threat during a walkout organized by EPHS students that was scheduled for 10 a.m. Out of an abundance of caution, we will be transitioning to an eLearning day at EPHS today,” Superintendent Leah Gauthier wrote in a message sent to district families shortly before 7 a.m. Friday.

In Elgin, the shooting was blamed on an emergency on Feb. 28 when the school district received an “unsubstantiated threat” against Elgin schools, according to a district statement. tweet Schools have not been shut down and “our buildings remain safe,” the tweet said.

February 20 of this year Wheaton North High School was hit with the caller’s false threat to “kill everyone”. The shootings prompted a large police response to the school when officers responded to similar threats the same day at North Shore Day School in Winnetka and Wilmette High School. Carl Sandburg Middle School in Orland Park went on “hard lockdown” when another a terrible hoax hit the school on February 10.

Meanwhile, cheating is rare in Chicago, Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Mary Fergus said. But Chicago police have confirmed that at least two false threats took place at one Westside high school.

Chicago Bulls College Prep, which has more than 1,000 students, was evacuated around 8 a.m. on Feb. 27 after someone called in a bomb threat — the second in less than a year.

“There’s a bomb in the gym and the kids know it!” The caller notified the principal, according to the police report.

The caller contacted the school office clerk, who immediately notified the principal, who called 911. The school at 2040 W. Adams St., which has a security plan in place, was in session at the time and all students were moved to nearby Malcolm X College while police searched the area with bomb-sniffing dogs. Nothing was found, the report says.

No injuries were reported, and staff and students returned to the school later that day.

The same employee took a similar call from a male caller at 7:02 a.m. on May 3, 2022.

“There’s a bomb in the hall!” After a moment of silence, the caller said, “There’s a bomb in the auditorium, and if you call CPD, it will detonate!” according to the report.

The school was not evacuated then, but the police searched the school and found nothing, no one was injured. The phone number called was not available to anyone, according to the police report.

When emergencies occur at CPS schools, schools are trained to call 911, Fergus said.

“Once a report is made, regardless of the source, we can respond promptly to the incident report,” Fergus said in a statement. “We are coordinating our appropriate resources to respond by checking the conditions at the school, whether there is an actual active situation or the report is a hoax.”

Fergus said CPS takes all security threats seriously and responds to all incidents consistently and thoroughly, using “robust protocols” and partnerships with sister agencies in the city, including police, fire and OEMC.

Chicago police spokeswoman Maggie Huynh also said the safety of students and schools is a top concern, priority and regular training.

“We work closely with the CPS Office of School Safety and Security and all schools to respond quickly to incidents and thoroughly investigate all threats,” Huynh said in a statement. “We also participate in school safety drills with other public safety agencies in schools across the city to ensure we are equipped and prepared for emergencies.”

For the FBI, if the person making the threat “has the means to make it happen,” the threat will usually be treated — at least initially — as credible, Johnson said. This determination may change as more information becomes available.

“It’s always a dynamic situation,” Johnson said.

“We’re gathering operational information to make sure they have as complete a picture as possible, and we’re working with other agencies, including the police and prosecutors, to determine the most appropriate course of action,” Johnson said.

When agents receive a threat, they evaluate it for value.

“We’re looking at whether it’s a real threat or whether someone is threatening something that they can’t (or don’t intend to) carry out,” Johnson said.

For students, parents and school staff, the situations are causing “a high degree of anxiety and uncertainty about what’s already there,” said Trump, a school safety expert, citing the heightened awareness of mass school shootings.

“Parents and school leaders should talk to young people to make sure they know the threat will be thoroughly investigated and there will be consequences. By tracking the digital footprints, they will eventually find the perpetrators of the threats,” Trump said.

Trump said it’s unusual to have threats targeting multiple school districts in states in one day.

“Often they are computer generated, or digital threats, or threats transmitted by telephone or other electronic means. “They often come across state or international borders,” Trump added.

A troubling side effect of so many threats seems to be “shock fatigue/threat fatigue,” Trump said, as people become complacent. Most are found to be untrustworthy, but no one wants to be,” Trump said, implying that officials must investigate no matter what.

And officials haven’t been able to stop this latest wave, which began around September, he said.

“It begs the question: Are threat creators that sophisticated? Are they more complicated?” Trump said.

Callers face expulsion or criminal prosecution with a claim for compensation.

Hoaxes are federal crimes, Johnson said, adding that they usually involve young people. The FBI must “constantly” re-educate by distributing and coordinating media campaigns.

In Chicago, real threats are rampant on school campuses. Most recently, on March 1 around 4:30 p.m., several schoolchildren were “hiding under a slide,” Cook County prosecutors said, when a domestic dispute led to a shootout that ended the death of Chicago police officer Andres Mauricio Vasquez Lasso near the elementary school yard. The children were not injured, and the man has been charged.

December 16, 2022four students were shot — two fatally — near Benito Juarez secondary school. The former student has been charged.

In addition, it’s not uncommon for students to sometimes bring guns into city schools, which, while troubling, is another threat, officials say.

At least one such disturbance recently occurred in the South Shore area.

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On Feb. 22 at 1 p.m., Chicago police were called to Isabelle O’Keeffe School, 6940 S. Merrill Ave., where a 14-year-old boy brought a gun to school. The student was charged, no one was injured. Police said they found the boy at the school and confiscated the weapon.

Schools must have an internal list of heightened security measures in place to prepare for such emergencies, or they will be closing schools every day, according to Trump.

Additional police patrols, more frequent toilet inspections and a community school crisis strategy are also important. “So they can go to the ground so everybody can get out,” Trump said.

“Rumors and misinformation that used to take hours and days to spread now take seconds and minutes,” Trump said.

Another problem is the evacuation of schools. “You think you know what you’re getting away from, but often you don’t,” and schools lose control of students when they are evacuated, Trump said.

In the end, most kids don’t like these threats, pranks, and hoaxes and become just as upset as the teachers. It doesn’t help them, Trump said. He said they have enough classes, sports and extracurriculars to take care of anything else.



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