PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Foreign nationals could be behind a rash of fake school shooter calls, also known as swatting, Peoria County Sheriff Chris Watkins said Thursday.
Peoria High School and Bloomington High School were swatted Wednesday morning, prompting response by law enforcement.
“Unfortunately, you have to treat all of them as real. That’s where the chaos starts, putting the schools on lockdown,” said Watkins.
Watkins said the swatters are often callers from outside the United States. The callers are getting creative by using spoofed numbers and faking gunshots in calls.
“I think the intentions are to create chaos in the U.S. doing these, and it is creating chaos. We’ve had officers injured in responding to these, parents showing up to schools, it’s creating chaos unfortunately,” he said.
Bloomington Police Public Information Officer Brandt Parsley said school resource officers luckily found out Wednesday’s threat was fake pretty quickly, so the school did not go into lockdown.
“So our response, while we still showed. It wasn’t that the heavy police response it would have been with us all jumping out of the car. Running into the building and all that, so we were able to tell that it was fake pretty quickly,” he said.
Parsley said the massive response required for school shooter threats taxes resources and can limit their ability to respond to other calls.
“There could be serious crimes occurring in the city at that time and we don’t have officers to respond because all of us are going to that because that’s one of the most high-priority calls that we’ll ever get as police, So it definitely takes away from that,” he said.
The massive police response can also traumatize students.
“There’s no call for service you’re gonna get a bigger police response than that. I mean, that’s literally when I say everybody goes I mean, from the administration to detectives to patrol,” said Brandt. “It’s dangerous. It puts the police in in a terrible spot and then you’ve got all these kids in school and then if we can’t determine it’s not valid and we have to go into the school that way with our guns and stuff like there’s an active shooter, that’s traumatic for the children.”
Illinois State Police reported 19 schools received 21 fake school shooter calls on Wednesday alone.
Multiple area schools, including Peoria Heights and Bloomington, have sent letters to families advising them of the increase in swatting calls and lockdown procedures.
Swatting is a Class 4 felony punishable by jail time and up to $10,000 in fines, but Watkins said more legislation is needed to combat spoof calls.
“A lot of these phone numbers are spoofed numbers that they’re getting through apps, through websites, where they can mask their real location, their real phone numbers. They’re using a different phone number to throw us off. So it is very hard to track these down, especially overseas. So there needs to be legislation in place to block these apps. Cell phone companies need to help us out with these things,” he said.
“It’s just a great pain for society,” added Brandt.