Milton High out of lockdown; 5 school districts hit with fake shooter claims this week

Reports of a man standing outside of Milton High School with an automatic weapon were deemed unsubstantiated Wednesday afternoon after police lifted an almost two-hour-long school lockdown at 2 p.m.

The FBI is investigating hoax shooter claims at public schools that have hit at least five South Shore towns and more than a dozen others across the state since Monday.

Duxbury, Cohasset and Hingham police departments all received school shooter threats Tuesday morning, Milton High was threated Wednesday and Braintree received a hoax call Monday. The calls have also been reported in Vermont, Ohio and Maine in the last few months.

"Law enforcement is going to use all available resources to investigate a school threat until we determine whether it is real or not," FBI Boston Division spokesperson Kristen Setera said in an email Tuesday. "Investigating hoax threats drains law enforcement resources and diverts us from responding to an actual crisis. Hoax threats can shut down schools, cause undue stress and fear to the public, and cost taxpayers a lot of money."

Duxbury firefighters respond to a hoax call reporting a school shooter at the high school Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.
Duxbury firefighters respond to a hoax call reporting a school shooter at the high school Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.

Emergency services raced toward Duxbury High School on Tuesday morning after scanner chatter reported a “possible active shooter at the high school.” Within the hour, the Duxbury Fire Department tweeted there was no danger to any students and called the incident "unfounded."

The fire department called in all off-duty personnel and sent all three ambulances to the high school, and more than 100 state and local police officers responded.

"It's a vicious hoax. Never mind the fact that they cost towns and cities money, but we all follow protocol and rush to the scene and it endangers everybody," Duxbury Police Chief Michael Carbone said. "It puts us in danger just getting there. I'm happy it ended this way, but it's more than a nuisance. I have guys going into a locked-down school where kids are terrified, carrying rifles. It's traumatic."

At about 10:15 a.m. Tuesday, the South Shore Regional Dispatch Center received a call "from someone threatening the Cohasset Middle High School campus," police said.

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"Cohasset police personnel were immediately dispatched to all schools and confirmed the call was in fact not credible and a hoax," the department posted to Facebook. "This call is similar to other calls some Massachusetts schools have been getting throughout the past 48 hours."

Cohasset police Lt. Mike Lopes said the department has a safety plan specifically for Cohasset schools, and a threat to a school means "every single officer responds." He said police immediately set up a perimeter, entered the school Tuesday morning, swept the area and realized the threat wasn't credible.

Cohasset High School.
Cohasset High School.

"We have a plan in place and we follow that plan. We don't consider it a waste of resources because we never assume it's a hoax or a swatting call," Lopes said. "We treat it as a legitimate call until we have evidence to the contrary. Even though we knew some of these calls had gone out yesterday and were aware of it, we're going to treat every call as real."

Hingham received a hoax call at about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, a police dispatcher said, and Braintree received an unsubstantiated threat Monday.

What we know about other schools in Massachusetts

Reports of hoax calls were coming from Amesbury, Great Barrington, Concord and other Massachusetts towns. Police in Marshfield, Norwell, Pembroke and Quincy said their communities were not affected as of noon Tuesday.

Schools in Fall River resumed their normal day-to-day schedules just after noon after receiving and investigating a call.

"We have received instructions from the Fall River Police Department that all Fall River Public Schools should 'shelter in place', meaning no one should enter or leave our building at this time," read a statement on the district's Facebook page earlier in the morning. "This is a preventative measure out of an abundance of caution related to a situation in the community. There is no threat to any (Fall River public) school at this time. We will operate normally while we are in this stance. Every entrance and emergency exit is being closely monitored by staff. We will keep our community updated as needed."

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Swatting and school shooting hoaxes play out nationwide

Schools across Vermont were hit by series of hoax calls last week reporting active shooters in K-12 schools from Alburgh to Bennington, Vermont State Police said. A total of 21 schools were targeted by the calls from 8:40 a.m. to 10:50 a.m. at the main line of a dispatch center, police department or town office, State Police said. Every threat was determined to be unfounded.

Reports of school shootings that proved to be false occurred at schools across Ohio in September 2022, according to reporting by the Cincinnati Enquirer, and in Maine in November, according to reporting by The practice of making the false reports is commonly called swatting.

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The false reports in Ohio were similar and specific, the Enquirer reported. In multiple 911 calls, a man identifying himself as James Park falsely reported a gunman had opened fire and 10 students were wounded. The same calls were made to schools. Other false reports have occurred in Florida, among other states.

On Nov. 15, dispatch centers in 10 communities throughout Maine received what authorities are calling “hoax-style” phone calls that morning alerting them, falsely, to active shooters inside local schools, said Michael Sauschuck, the commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety.

Sanford High School was the first hoax victim, with a call that came into local dispatch at 8:20 a.m.

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“Those phone calls − those initial complaints, those threats − were detailed in nature and they highlighted supposed active-shooter scenarios in our schools, right here in the state of Maine,” Sauschuck said during a news conference at the Sanford High School campus.

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This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Duxbury, Cohasset, Braintree MA schools lock down due to swatting