False active shooter calls clog law enforcement, terrify schools

The calls come in. There’s a panicked person breathlessly reporting an armed person or persons in a local school. Sometimes students or even the caller have been shot. Sometimes specific room numbers are named. A name and a return phone number are provided, if the caller doesn’t hang up first.

And then law enforcement mobilizes, schools are locked down, students and teachers hide and parents and guardians worry until police and deputies and SWAT can mobilize to evacuate the building and do a room-by-room search to find… nothing.

That phone number? Usually out-of-state, often registered as belonging to someone with no idea it had been used.

It’s called “swatting” and while it’s been an occasional problem around the world, in the past month it’s become a fast-growing trend. On Oct. 11, a school in Sarasota and multiple schools in Miami-Dade, Broward, St. Lucie, and Collier locked down after receiving calls. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster called for an investigation after 18 school districts reported hoax 911 calls last Friday. USA TODAY found at least 30 active shooter false alarms and threats made at schools in one week last month and WIRED reported more than 90 false reports of school shooters during three weeks in September.

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Here’s what you need to know.

What is swatting?

“Swatting” is making a hoax call to law enforcement in the hopes of deliberately causing a large police or SWAT team response. Sometimes it’s aimed at a specific person, sometimes it’s just randomly

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