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Vermont officials respond to hoax reports of active shooters in schools across the state

Vermont State Police patch on the Williston barracks sign
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont State Police patch on the Williston barracks sign

Vermont law enforcement agencies received calls reporting active shooters at 21 local schools between 8:30 and 11 this morning. Officials quickly determined that the calls were a hoax, but responded to each threat.

Governor Phil Scott and state officials provided an update on the hoax calls that claimed active shooters, and in one case two victims, were at 21 K-through-12 schools across the state. The Republican bluntly labeled the calls an act of terrorism.

“These calls were a hoax," Scott said. "An act of terrorism designed to create chaos and stoke fear that can be exploited. I realize how unnerving this is for students, teachers, parents and Vermonters alike. I want to thank the Vermont State Police, local law enforcement and emergency response offices across the state for acting so quickly and professionally. Please know we’ll continue to monitor this situation closely.”

Commissioner of Public Safety Jennifer Morrison explained that what happened appears to be what is often referred to as “swatting.”

“Swatting is the false reporting of an on-going emergency or threat of violence intended to prompt an immediate and/or large response from law enforcement and other first responders," Morrison said. "I want to be clear that these incidents are criminal in nature and are covered by multiple state and federal violations.”

Twenty of the 21 calls were received at the main line of a dispatch center — not an emergency 911 line nor schools.

“State or local law enforcement has responded to all of these locations," said Morrison, "and determined that they are safe and no violence has taken place.”

Education Secretary Daniel French said schools have well-established protocols intended to keep students safe.

“We’re releasing a list of schools but we just wanted to mention to parents that even though your school might not be on that list, your school might be reacting by taking some precautionary measures with an abundance of caution," French explained. "So be prepared for that.”

Vermont State Police Director Colonel Matthew Birmingham says despite quickly determining the calls were likely a hoax they responded to each affected school.

“When you have multiple calls of this nature happening at the same time the odds of that being real are very low," Birmingham said. "After analyzing the calls, the VIC [Vermont Intelligence Center] was able to ascertain that it was likely a swatting event. But it doesn’t relieve us of our responsibility to respond to all these sites, which we did. So I want to thank all the law enforcement agencies and fire and EMS agencies out there that did respond to ensure that these schools were safe. And we will continue to do that if they come in.”

About six weeks ago, the Department of Public Safety and the Agency of Education alerted schools about similar hoax calls in other parts of the country, although Morrison says none have been credible.

"These types of calls could continue and we urge anyone who receives such a call to take it seriously and immediately report it to your local law enforcement authorities," Morrison said. "Do not just dismiss a threatening call as a hoax.”

The schools affected as of 11 Wednesday include: Enosburgh, Essex, Colchester, Montpelier, Arlington Memorial, Brattleboro, Milton, Randolph Union, Middlebury Union and Fairhaven High Schools, Missisquoi Valley Union High School in Highgate, North Country Union Junior High and High School in Derby, Rice Memorial in South Burlington, Otter Valley Union in Brandon, Christ the King High School in Rutland, United Christian Academy in Newport, Grace Christian School in Bennington, the St. Albans City Elementary School, and the Alburgh Community School.