Upper Blue Elementary one of 11 schools in Colorado targeted by ‘swatting’ call Wednesday
Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said "swatting" calls have become more common in recent years due to more sophisticated technology.
Upper Blue Elementary in Breckenridge initiated lockdown protocols Wednesday morning, March 1, after receiving a phone call related to the safety of the school that law enforcement later determined to be unfounded, according to the Summit School District.
Superintendent Tony Byrd notified parents of the lockdown in an email that described the threat as a “swatting” call. Breckenridge Police responded immediately, secured the area and checked the building for any viable threat but found none, Byrd said. He added that the school was one of several across the state to receive such a call.
“Swatting,” Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said, is a term describing an incident where someone intentionally provokes a law enforcement response by making a fake threat that turns out to not be a real emergency.
Breckenridge Police Chief James Baird said in an email the call came into the Summit County 911 Center a few minutes after 9:50 a.m., prompting the school to lockdown, “out of an abundance of caution.”
“We recognize these ‘false alarm’ calls can cause significant anxiety for students, staff and family members,” Baird said in the email. “This is obviously exacerbated when the children are so young such as in an elementary school.”
For this reason, Baird said, after the lockdown, school leadership assembled the students so Breckenridge Police Department staff could meet with them and reinforce that they were safe and had done a good job following protocols. Police cleared the scene around 11:30 a.m., and the FBI has been notified of the incident and continues to investigate, he said.
At least 10 other schools in Colorado reported receiving similar “swatting” calls on Wednesday, according to the Colorado Information Analysis Center, a branch of the state Department of Public Safety.
FitzSimons said in a phone interview that in addition to Sheriff’s Deputies responding to Upper Blue Elementary, he had law enforcement officers responding to other schools in the county “to make sure it wasn’t a decoy call.”
Noting that the Summit School District had experienced another “swatting” call just weeks earlier, FitzSimons said these types of calls have become more common in recent years as the internet and technology has become more sophisticated.
These “swatting” incidents don’t just happen at schools, FitzSimons said, and emphasized anyone who receives such a threat — whether they believe it is legitimate or not — at their home or business should report it to law enforcement immediately. He added that parents should talk to their students about these incidents and remind them not to become complacent just because “swatting” is becoming more common.
Just because the threat made in a “swatting” call isn’t real, FitzSimons said, doesn’t mean the calls aren’t dangerous — especially when they target schools.
“What it’s doing is it’s diverting resources from what could be a real-life emergency (elsewhere) in the county,” he said. “A situation like this would take priority over anything.”
While law enforcement makes every effort to track down where these calls originate from, FitzSimons said, this can often be a difficult process since the calls are often placed using an app or a virtual private network, commonly referred to as a VPN. The technology being used causes the call to bounce off servers all over the world, he said, noting that law enforcement has traced the Feb. 6 “swatting” call to a location outside of the United States — though it still isn’t clear that that is actually where it originated.
“People just need to be aware (of swatting) in general,” FitzSimons said. “You should treat all of these as real.”
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