Schools here and across Ohio were targeted with fake mass shooting calls Tuesday, just two weeks before Ohio law on these “swatting” incidents is about to get tougher.
School and law enforcement officials condemned the deliberate hoaxes, which hit Thurgood Marshall in Dayton, Kenton Ridge near Springfield, Elder in Cincinnati, Olentangy near Columbus and Coventry schools in Akron.
A change in Ohio law starting April 3 will allow prosecutors to issue a felony charge of swatting against those who deliberately call or text law enforcement with false school threats. If found guilty, the offender can be required to pay back the fees associated with law enforcement going to the false threat.
“These types of false reports, commonly referred to as ‘swatting,’ result in a large, armed law enforcement response, risking the lives of students, staff, and first responders,” said Jay Carey, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety. “Schools are often put in lock down. Swatting ties up emergency services, sometimes limiting their ability to respond to other incidents.”
The change in Ohio law came from the passage of House Bill 462, which made swatting a fourth-degree felony. The law was a response to a string of deliberately fake school threats both in Ohio and across the country.
Carey said most school threat investigations are initiated at the local level. While schools and local police often cooperate with state and federal officials, Carey said there is no mandatory reporting of these incidents at the state level, so the state does not have data on the number of incidents and arrests.
Most recently in the Dayton area, on Sept. 23, law enforcement were sent to Belmont High School in Dayton and Catholic Central High School in Springfield on the same day due to false threats of a school shooter.
Officials in Springfield’s Northeastern schools, home of Kenton Ridge High School, expressed frustration with Tuesday’s incident.
“Swatting incidents instill fear and panic throughout school communities and disrupt first responder agencies. These incidents can be traumatic for everyone involved and cause anxiety for our families, students, staff and community,” the district said.
A spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office said swatting can lead to a waste of valuable police resources, risking the safety of those in actual emergency situations.
“Innocent individuals who are swatted often experience trauma, fear, and distress,” the spokeswoman said. “It can also lead to unnecessary damage to property, endangerment of bystanders, and more.”
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office always encourages citizens to work together to report any suspicious behavior to their local law enforcement or dispatch center, the spokeswoman said.
Credit: Bill Lackey
Credit: Bill Lackey
John Kronour, superintendent of the Northeastern Local School District, said Tuesday that law enforcement conducted a room by room search for any active shooter after receiving that call, but found nothing threatening.
“We are extremely grateful to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and all other emergency responders for their immediate response to Kenton Ridge High School,” Kronour said. “From what we saw today, it is clear that our emergency response procedures were carried out properly by our students, employees, and law enforcement officials.”
Kronour also reiterated the similar sentiment to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, asking students and parents to say something if they hear something.
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