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School threat wasn't what some thought: Afterward, other schools get threatening calls

Afterward, other schools get threatening calls

Staff writer

Within days of a call that resulted in closure of four Marion County school districts, law enforcement agencies in three other Kansas towns got calls that resulted in school lockdowns.

Both Hays and Russell police got calls Friday, the day after the Marion County shutdown, telling them suspicious black backpacks were located in their high schools.

In both cases, police went to the high school to check out false information provided by the caller.

In Hays, police also checked out Walmart, where apparently the same caller said the store was “being shot up.”

“We had a ‘swatting’ call at the high school about a black backpack,” ‘deputy police chief Brian Dawson said. “Obviously we have due diligence.”

“Swatting” is making a prank call to emergency services in an effort to cause a large number of police officers to be dispatched.

Dawson said the caller was male, with a heavy accent that sounded Middle Eastern.

“He was very hard to understand,” Dawson said.

To make things more suspicious, the caller’s phone number didn’t match a real phone.

The caller said a black backpack in a specific and nonexistent room was suspicious.

Description of the backpack made it sound as if it might contain a bomb, Dawson said.

“They said it was in a room number that the high school doesn’t even have,” Dawson said. “We cleared the room that was closest to the one being described.”

On the same day, the high school office got repeated calls saying someone would not be in that day. The high school had no students or staff members with the name the caller gave.

Those calls came in from the same phone number that was used to call police.

On the same day in Russell, a male caller told police there was a suspicious backpack in the high school.

Police chief Jordan Harrison said the caller identified himself as “Mike John” and claimed there was a “black backpack located in room 50 in the high school,” and that “the backpack was covered in plastic and full of watches and wires.”

Police and sheriff’s deputies went to the high school and told school authorities. The school was immediately locked down.

“Although Russell High School doesn’t have a Room #50, the school was thoroughly searched for the safety of staff and students,” Harrison said.

Swatting is not unusual, Dawson said.

He speculated that the calls to Hays and Russell might be related to the call to Kansas City, Missouri, that disrupted Marion County schools.

“It causes a lot of heartache because you do have to do due diligence and have to go out there,” Dawson said. “I do assume the people who do these swatting calls try to track the media to see how much they can stir up.”

Dawson said Hays police tried to “play it low-key” when swatting calls come in.

“It could be that maybe there was some national coverage on your deal and maybe they were trying to see what they could do,” he said. “You’ve got to disseminate the information and make sure it gets looked into. Everybody’s got enough work to do without everyone getting harassed.”

A Tuesday incident at Newton High School caused a school lockdown, but didn’t spring from a swatting call, though might have been related to heightened interest in school security.

Deputy police chief Scott Powell said two boys walked out of the high school’s automotive department and saw another student put what they thought was an orange-and-white gun in a car and drive away.

“It wasn’t a swatting call,” Powell said.

The school was put on lockdown while police investigated.

“We found the video of the incident and identified the boy involved,” Powell said.

The student, who lives in Moundridge, had an orange-and-white toy gun that shoots soft projectiles.

“You wouldn’t really want to get hit with one, but it’s not going to hurt you,” Powell said. “All he was doing was taking it out of one vehicle and putting it into another vehicle.”

The student hadn’t meant to cause any commotion, Powell said.

“I don’t know he was aware anyone saw him and called us,” Powell said.

Powell said the student who reported the incident did the right thing.

“They saw what they thought was a gun and they called law enforcement, which is what we would want them to do,” he said. “The kid probably shouldn’t have anything that even remotely resembled a gun on the school campus, but that’s a school policy thing, not a crime.”

Last modified April 13, 2022

 

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