Swatting call leads to lockdowns

Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

(Editor's Note: This story has been updated from its original published version as more information has become available.)


Two weeks after a situation involving an actual gun at Newcastle High School was diffused, all three schools in Weston County School District No. 1 were locked down on Monday morning for roughly an hour after a “swatting,” or spam-type call (see sidebar), was received by local law enforcement dispatch.


The call received at the Newcastle dispatch center at 9:11 a.m. claimed that there were “seven victims on the first floor” of one of the local schools, and law enforcement officials responded to all three buildings, according to Newcastle Police Chief Chuck Bowles. He stated that the dispatcher was on the call for approximately a minute, and that the officers were on scene roughly two to three minutes after the call was received by dispatch. Bowles also noted that Sheriff Bryan Colvard had alerted him to other Wyoming schools receiving the same call. 


The News Letter Journal was informed at 9:24 a.m. by WCSD #1 Superintendent Brad LaCroix that lockdown procedures were implemented at all district schools, and the schools remained in lockdown while law enforcement swept the buildings. 


The Newcastle Police Department eventually gave the all clear, and the districtwide lockdown was lifted at 10:25 a.m. Weston County Emergency Management coordinator Gilbert Nelson later reported that schools in Weston County School District No. 7 in Upton were also swept by law enforcement and given the all clear as well.


Upton Police Chief Susan Bridge confirmed that while the threat did not directly come to the Upton schools she did have the schools go into lockdown until she was able to give the all clear. Following her sweep, the schools were taken out of lockdown. 


It appears that Newcastle wasn’t the only victim of the swatting attack, as schools across the state, including in Casper, Buffalo, Rock Springs, Laramie and Gillette, were locked down after receiving similar reports, according to Mayor Pam Gualtieri and reports from other school districts posted to social media. 


“Apparently, statewide there was a notice of intent that went to law enforcement,” LaCroix confirmed. “When law enforcement responded, we were notified to go into lockdown and lockout.”

According to Gualtieri, who was on the scene at Newcastle Elementary School when she spoke to the NLJ, the call came into Newcastle Police Department Dispatch and a voice “with a Middle Eastern accent” stated that there was an active shooter situation. Gualtieri noted that the Campbell County Police Department confirmed that it had received the same call.


However, Nelson reported to the News Letter Journal that the call came from a live person and was not a recording. 


Gualtieri said that the Newcastle Police Department notified day care providers and centers in addition to area schools, and she indicated the officers were “doing everything they were supposed to in an active shooter situation to guarantee the safety of students and staff at all three schools.” 


Nelson reported that the response was multi-agency, with the Newcastle Police Department, Weston County Sheriff’s Office and Wyoming Highway Patrol all taking part in the effort. According to Bowles, the law enforcement on scene included three Newcastle officers, one Sheriff’s deputy and two state troopers. 


“Upon arrival I advised Mr. Hoffman (Bryce, Newcastle High School principal) to place the school on lockdown. We initially did a quick search at the high school and middle school. We did not locate any acts of violence,” Bowles said. “Sgt. (Travis) Garhart along with Trooper (Jared) Williams responded to the elementary school, and confirmed there was no act of violence there.” 


At that point, he said that the officers then went room to room, unlocking all doors and methodically searching the entire high school, middle school, Kozisek Aquatic Center and any buildings not attached to the main building. 


“Following the detailed sweep of our buildings and grounds, it was deemed there was never any immediate threat to students or staff,” LaCroix said in a letter to students, staff and families. “In fact, this unfortunately appears to be possibly related to a string of incidents across the state of Wyoming today in which false threats were called to numerous schools.” 


“As always, we took this threat seriously and worked closely with law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety of our students and staff,” LaCroix said.


He noted that the events that unfolded on April 3 could be traumatic for anyone involved, and he encouraged individuals with questions or concerns to reach out to himself or the district’s building principals. 


“We are here to help,” he concluded. 


Monday’s statewide threat may be part of an even larger trend, as Gualtieri told the NLJ that other states, including Utah, Texas and Idaho, have dealt with similar situations in recent weeks.



Sidebar: What is swatting? 

Swatting is a term used to describe the action of making hoax phone calls to report serious crimes to emergency services. People who carry out such calls aim to fool emergency services into sending a special weapons and tactics team (SWAT) to respond to the supposed emergency.

So-called swatters will falsely report major events such as bomb threats, hostage situations and murders to encourage the most serious response from emergency services.

Source: www.fortinet.com


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