False School Shooter Reports Are On The Rise — And They Traumatize Kids
Last week, there were at least 30 fake threats about a school shooting or other violence across the United States.
School is back in full swing, and that also means the looming anxiety about students’ safety is also prominent. School shootings and other threats of violence have become so normalized that active shooter drillers, metal detectors to get into school, and bulletproof backpacks truly don’t seem that out of the box anymore. It’s just the new reality of sending kids to school.
However, it seems that there is something happening when it comes to false active shooter reports that even the FBI is wondering what is going on and if there is a connection between the hoax reports — at least 30 just last week — that have been happening all over the country.
While authorities haven’t come out and said that any of these false reports are related, according to USA Today, they do seem to have similarities.
"A red flag ... is when you start seeing a chunk of these very similar threats in multiple cities in one area or region or state, and then others in another state. It's usually a red flag for what they call swatting," said Kenneth Trump, a school safety expert.
"Swatting” is a term for when a person calls 911 to deliberately cause a large police presence or SWAT team response.
“The FBI is aware of the numerous swatting incidents wherein a report of an active shooter at a school is made,” the FBI said in a statement. “The FBI takes swatting very seriously because it puts innocent people at risk.”
Swatting is not a funny prank. In fact, its consequences can be lethal. In 2017, a 28-year-old man was accidentally killed by police in his home after a prank caller reported a hostage situation to his address.
“It's not a joke and it's not harmless,” CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller said. “Out of all the types of swatting, this creates the most danger. When police show up for what they think is an active shooter, they come in strong, heavy, armed, and fast. It raises the level of hazard for everyone involved and is putting people in danger.”
These types of pranks also compromise police forces. “It puts a lot of police resources towards an incident that's not really unfolding, because it creates this sense of severe and urgent danger that could result in many fatalities,” he said. “It also takes police resources away from incidents that really are happening. Low priority calls can be quite serious and you're delaying response times and not allowing help to get to people who really need it.”
It’s clear these false reports are not just a nuisance for the local police departments, but they can have life and death consequences as well as having lasting effects on students and parents. Watson Chapel High School in Arkansas was put on lockdown immediately after the school got word of a possible active shooter on the campus.
When Murrisha Leon, a mother of two students at Watson Chapel High School, was asleep when she received a call from a fellow parent alerting her of a report of a shooter at their kids’ school.
“I jumped up in a panic and instantly threw up,” Leon told CNN. “I believed it and feared for my children's lives. I called them, and when they didn't answer the first time, I started crying.”
Soon after, Leon received a text from her son: “Mama please come get me, they say three people got shot in the bathroom and I'm scared.”
30 minutes after her son sent that horrifying text, word got out that the report was completely false. However, the damage was already done.
In fact, many students at Watson Chapel were re-traumatized from a previous shooting that happened in 2021 at the middle school that is also on campus where some witness a student die.
“The students said they had flashbacks of the shooting that happened to them in junior high,” Jacorrian Spears, an AP US History teacher at the high school said. “Those kids are now 11th graders and they still wear RIP hoodies and shirts of their classmate. They've told me before how it still kind of haunts them and today didn't make it any better.”
The boy who died in that shooting also happened to be Leon’s daughter’s best friend. “She relives that memory everyday,” Leon said. “Today brought everything back.”
So, what do parents do now that they have to pick up the pieces after a false active shooter report? Leon just wants to be there for her kids in anyway she can and help them work through yet another traumatic event that happened while at school.
“You can't imagine the stress and hurt you put on families when you do things like this. This is something most parents worry about everyday when we send our children to school. It needs to stop,” she remarked.