Law-enforcement agencies say they found no credibility to threats made to schools across Colorado, including several in the Denver area, Feb. 22.
The sheriff’s office in Clear Creek County, citing federal authorities, indicated that the threats appear to be a hoax.
“However, we are taking this very seriously and acting appropriately,” the sheriff’s office said in a tweet.
Schools across the regions covered by Colorado Community Media newspapers reported increased police presence. In Clear Creek, for instance, three schools remained on lockdown past noon. Meanwhile, in Brighton, police placed schools on “secure” status, meaning they were safe but requried an elevated level of security. In Englewood, reports of shots fired proved to be false at schools there. Englewood High School and Englewood Middle School were among those placed in lockdown and officers cleared those schools of threats as of 9:15 a.m.
"No threats or injuries were located and the lockdown has been released," Englewood police tweeted.
The incidents fit a pattern the FBI and local law-enforcement agencies across the country have contended with hoax threats in recent months. Such threats are taken seriously by federal investigators and prosecutors, according to the FBI, and those who make them, if caught and found guilty, may face up to five years in prison.
“The Bureau and its law enforcement partners take each threat seriously,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said in a recent statement. “We investigate and fully analyze each threat to determine its credibility. Hoax threats disrupt school, waste limited law enforcement resources, and put first responders in unnecessary danger.”
The FBI added that hoax threats can create emotional distress for school teachers, staff, students and parents.
In Brighton, officers responded to a threat at the high school around 8:40 a.m. Feb 22 and concluded that it was unfounded. A police department press release said the caller was threatening to go into the school with weapons.
A police department tweet said other schools in the area were “on secure” – or being watched – as a precaution.
"During a secure, doors are locked at the school and there is no entry or exit from the building as long as the secure is in place," added 27J spokeswoman Janelle Asmus. "However, school schedules are maintained and learning continues inside the school even as all activities are brought inside the school building."
Police took the secure status off Brighton schools, including Brighton High School, about an hour later.
"I am proud of all of our students and staff for the way they followed our safety protocols," said Principal Shelly Genereuz in a Facebook post. "At no time were any students and staff in danger."
Brighton police encourage the reporting of suspicious or safety concerns. Students can also call the Safe2Tell program, and the calls can be anonymous. The number is 877-542-7233 or go online to www.safe2tell.org.
Carlson Elementary, King-Murphy Elementary, and Georgetown Community School remained on lockout as a safety precaution as of noon on Feb. 22, Clear Creek School District Re-1 officials said in a statement.
The lockout means students and staff remain inside the building and business goes on as usual.
“A lockout is a safety protocol that we take when there is a potential danger located outside of the building/community, which means no one can enter or leave the building until the lockout is lifted,” the district said.
The Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office said no schools have active threats.
“We have a significant law enforcement presence at each school,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a tweet. “Our Dispatch Center has received the same threats as all the others in the state.”
Officials did not elaborate on the nature of the information received by the dispatch center.
Englewood Schools Superintendent Wendy Rubin said the threats appeared to be a “swatting incident” – a prank meant to disrupt schools and cause fear among students and staff.
“The lockdown has now been released and staff and students are safe,” Rubin said in an email sent to families. “Swatting is a criminal harassment tactic of deceiving an emergency service (via such means as hoaxing an emergency services dispatcher) into sending a police or emergency service response team to a school or other place.”
Officers responded to Englewood High School at 9:19 a.m. on Feb. 22 after receiving what turned out to be a false report of shots fired, the police department said via Twitter.
The Englewood Campus, made up of the Englewood High School, Englewood Leadership Academy and Englewood Middle School, was placed on a lockdown.
As of 10:54 a.m., officials cleared the school and determined there were no threats or injuries.
“Swatting causes extreme disruption and can be dangerous. It is also deeply unsettling for anyone affected,” Rubin wrote. “This particular incident has impacted several schools and districts across Colorado today.”
“We are so grateful that everyone is safe and that today was a false alarm; however, it is also deeply unsettling that anyone out there would seek to cause this kind of disruption and emotional harm to school children, the adults who work with them, and their families,” Rubin wrote.
Rubin added that the school district will work to debrief this situation with staff members and students “to ensure that they have any mental health support they need.”
The Littleton Police Department received a call on their non-emergency line at 1:45 p.m., reporting an armed individual in Littleton High School, spokesperson Sheera Poelman said. She said audible gunshots were present in the background of the phone call.
The department placed Littleton High School on lockdown and placed Littleton Preparatory Charter School, Field Elementary School and East Elementary School on secure, meaning students and staff must remain inside the building, according to Littleton Public Schools.
Immediately after receiving the call, the police department contacted the school resource officer at Littleton High School, who said he was unaware of gunshots or an armed individual in the building, Poelman said. Although fake emergency calls had been happening at other schools in the state throughout the day, Poelman said the department responded as if the call was real.
The first officer arrived on the scene at 1:48 p.m. In total, twenty-two officers were used to clear every room of the school, Poelman said.
No injuries or evidence of an armed individual were found, Poelman said. After almost two hours, students were released from the school and allowed to leave the premises independently.
Littleton Public Schools posted an update on Facebook at 3:39 p.m., shortly after the school’s dismissal time.
“While we have no reason to believe that students were ever in harm’s way, we continue to take all threats seriously and follow our emergency protocols,” the update said. “We are grateful to the Littleton Police Department for their quick and efficient response, and we are extremely proud of our students and staff, who knew exactly what to do.”
Authorities and staff evacuated classrooms at Boulder High School following a report of an active shooter there around 9 a.m. on Feb. 22. There was no shooter. No injuries were reported and parents were sent to Mackey Auditorium at the University of Colorado campus to meet their children.
Similar reports were received in Aspen, in the Rocky Mountains, and Alamosa in Southern Colorado.
Local media report the threat in Alamosa began shortly before 8:30 a.m. Police there lifted a local lockdown within five minutes. The situation in Aspen resulted in the lockdown of three schools. Authorities issued an all-clear around 10:20 a.m.
At 10:50 a.m. on Feb. 22, Canon City High School was still on lockdown. Other schools in the area were on "secure status," local media reported.
In Glenwood Springs, the high school was on lockdown as of 10:20 a.m., media said. What prompted that response is not clear.
The Town of Estes Park tweeted that its police department received a report from an anonymous source that there would be an active shooter at the Estes Park High School, which is closed today due to weather.
CCM reporters Steve Smith, Tayler Shaw and Olivia Love contributed to this staff report.