The calls alleging shootings at more than a dozen Utah schools Wednesday, prompting swift police responses as a result, originated from an individual and a number with an internet address outside of the country, according to Utah public safety officials.
All of the reported threats were determined to be unfounded. Utah Department of Public Safety officials confirmed that phony emergency calls were placed about at least 13 different schools across Utah, beginning around 9:30 a.m. They did not immediately disclose which country the calls came from; however, they are working with both local and federal police as they investigate the case.
The rash of calls follows similar trends in other parts of the country that began this week.
“I want to say how sad I am that there are individuals in this world that would report a hoax like this on our high school students, the staff, our police officers, our fire officers — how sad I am that our country has gotten to this point where this kind of thing is OK,” said Ogden chief administrative officer Mark Johnson, as he addressed one of the calls made to Ogden High School. “It’s not.”
The chaos all unfolded around the same time, as police agencies across the state began responding to similar reports of school violence Wednesday morning. Schools that were in session at the time were locked down.
Officers and other emergency responders descended on Ogden High School shortly after 9:30, when police dispatchers received a report of “an active shooter” at the school, according to Ogden Police Capt. Tim Scott.
“That caller reported that there were shots fired and several students were down and injured by gunfire,” he explained.
An officer trained in active shooter responses was already at the school and helped place the school on lockdown right away while police responded to the report, as part of the city’s and district’s precautionary safety protocols.
Scott said the initial responders started “hunting” for a potential shooter with long guns. Police only learned that the call was “a hoax” while in the middle of clearing out the school.
Similar incidents popped up elsewhere in the state as this was happening. Salt Lake police officials said they also received a call of a possible active shooter at West High School on Wednesday. They called the report “unfounded,” noting that Salt Lake City School District schools are on spring break this week, though a tactical search of the building was conducted just in case.
Provo police said they received a report of “an active violent event” at Provo High School, as well, which turned out to be nothing. As they responded, they learned that a similar threat had been made to at least four other schools in Utah County, including Spanish Fork High School. Spanish Fork police said they responded to the school, resulting in a lockdown there but the school was found to be safe.
Multiple agencies in Box Elder County also responded to the threat of an active shooter at Box Elder High School in Brigham City on Wednesday morning among other cases in the state. The Grand County School District confirmed it received multiple calls about threats happening to schools within its district, also resulting in lockdowns, too.
The Utah Department of Public Safety officials said that every report is “taken very seriously and immediately looked into” as a precaution. It’s why local enforcement agencies responded to all of the claims Wednesday.
“We ask the public to please stay very calm as our local law enforcement partners have not verified the validity of these accusations,” they wrote in a statement Wednesday morning. “We are currently looking into the origin of these calls.”
Local officials like Johnson suspected that the calls were coming from out of the state because the person responsible was seemingly unaware that a school like West High was on spring break.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who was on vacation this week, issued a statement thanking local and state police for how they’ve responded to the threats.
“We remind all Utahns to stay vigilant and be aware of updates from your local officials,” he added.
Utah isn’t alone in dealing with the problem. The threats began not long after three adults and three children were killed at a Christian elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee on Monday.
KTVI in St. Louis reported that multiple schools in Missouri received prank calls on Monday. Similar threats were reported across Ohio on Tuesday, according to the Dayton Daily News. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette added that a series of phony reports were also made across Pennsylvania on Wednesday morning before the incidents in Utah.
While police investigate the claims, both Ogden city and school district officials said they will dissect the incident so they can make adjustments to response time in case the next report isn’t a prank. However, they hope that will never happen.
“We have received calls from tearful parents who are having a lot of trauma today because of the fears that they’ve been through as a result of this incident,” Johnson said. “We know other high schools in the state have experienced the very same thing. ... We will learn from this experience.”
Contributing: Andrew Adams