False threats force north country schools into lockdown

Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 10:26 AM EDT
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(WWNY) - At least four north country schools were on lockdown Thursday morning.

St. Lawrence County Sheriff Brooks Bigwarfe says law enforcement received reports of active shooters at Canton, Potsdam, Massena, and Gouverneur schools.

He told 7 News deputies and detectives checked every county school to ensure they were safe.

The sheriff’s office said later that all the reports were unfounded.

The hoaxes are called swatting. That’s when someone calls to report a false threat with the goal of getting law enforcement officials, like SWAT teams, to respond.

“Swatting is very dangerous. It puts innocent people in danger. We have to take every incident as real, so we have to respond to all of these incidents. When you have only limited resources and if you have multiple schools, obviously, resources are thinned out, so it’s very important to make sure all of these incidents are real and treated that way until found unfounded,” said Bigwarfe.

Lt. Michael Ames of the Potsdam Police Department said there were no active emergencies in his community.

He said village police received a call around 9:30 a.m. reporting shooting victims at Potsdam High School.

Potsdam police, sheriff’s deputies, and state police were on the scene within minutes, he said, and a sweep of the building didn’t turn up any threats.

Similar calls began coming into neighboring school districts before Potsdam police could clear their scene.

“Obviously the safety of our schools is our number one concern. It always is in the community and we will always respond to make sure the students are safe, but law enforcement leaders are cautious to make sure that as soon as we can identify something that is not a true emergency that we make sure to get that information out to the responding officers so that we don’t put the responders or any of the additional community members in additional risk to these types of calls,” said Ames.

Potsdam Central School District Superintendent Jerry Griffin says the district has its regularly scheduled District Safety Committee meeting on Monday.

“This has now been placed on the agenda as an item just to review. How did we do? Was there anything we could do differently? Is there a different way that we can communicate these things out to people, and maybe there’s not? Maybe it’s just success all around, but it’s a good time for us to talk about it.”>

Watertown police said they responded to a call at Watertown High School, but the report was unfounded.

Massena police said they also received a call about shooting victims at the high school there. They, too, found nothing during a sweep of the building. They said despite the lack of a threat, parents may see an increased police presence at all Massena schools.

Lewis County Sheriff Mike Carpinelli said he was aware of the incidents, but schools in his county are so far not affected.

He said the county’s school resource officers are on standby in case they’re needed.

In Jefferson County, the sheriff’s office said they’re not responding to anything, but they’re aware of a spate of incidents across the state.

There have been reports of similar incidents in the Albany and Plattsburgh areas, and nationwide.

New York State United Teachers released the following response to the swatting calls aimed at schools throughout the state:

“As our nation reels and mourns schoolchildren lost in yet another mass shooting, today’s incidents are a new low in callousness and depravity. These swatting attacks endanger our brave members of law enforcement, terrorize children, educators and parents, and waste valuable resources. We know the FBI and local law enforcement are doing everything they can to catch these perpetrators, and we look forward to the day when they are brought to justice.”