School violence hoaxes spread through state
Tupper Lake students on field trip to Plattsburgh HS when fake active shooter report came in
SARANAC LAKE — Tupper Lake High School students were on a field trip to Plattsburgh High School Thursday when a hoax report of a school shooting there derailed their plans.
Schools around the North Country and New York state were targets of hoax reports of school shootings on Thursday, and similar hoaxes have been perpetrated throughout the country in the past week — a week in which a school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee left three 9-year-olds, three adults and the alleged shooter dead.
While none of the Tri-Lakes school districts were direct targets of the fake calls on Thursday, schools sent out numerous messages to their communities notifying people of the hoaxes.
Tupper Lake Central School District Superintendent Russ Bartlett said students and teachers arrived at Plattsburgh High School at around 9:40 a.m. to find law enforcement all around the area. A teacher on the bus called him immediately.
“It sends your heart into the pit of your stomach when you hear it,” Bartlett said.
He did not initially know of the hoax, but learned it was a false alarm within a few minutes, and later learned of the widespread hoaxes.
The Tupper Lake students never got off the bus, and they immediately turned around and returned to Tupper Lake. Though there was no physical threat, Bartlett said this was heavy information for everyone — students, teachers and staff — to carry around for the rest of the day.
“How do you go through a day of school and make algebra seem important?” Bartlett asked. “It takes a toll. Adults are on edge. Kids are on edge. … You have kids who are not in a place to learn a whole lot today.”
He said, with kids, they see the “full spectrum of responses” — from kids who are unaware of the threat, to those who deflect with humor, to those who are truly terrified.
The Plattsburgh Press-Republican reported that on Thursday morning, Plattsburgh City Police could be seen running toward the school along with State Police, Clinton County sheriff’s deputies and SUNY Plattsburgh University Police, all while parents huddled outside. The whole incident lasted a little over half an hour before the school was cleared and the hoax was publicized.
All Plattsburgh district schools went into a precautionary lockdown and all PHS after-school activities for Thursday were canceled, according to the Press-Republican.
There have also been false reports of active school violence reported in Potsdam, Malone, Canton, Rensselaer, Troy, Saratoga Springs, Schodack, East Greenbush and Rochester this week. Schools in numerous states have been targeted by swatting attacks in the past week.
It is currently unclear if these are separate cases, or if any are connected.
“We were trying to figure out, ‘Which threat of a mass shooting was the one that the state had provided information on?'” Bartlett said. “When I thought that sentence to myself I thought, ‘What world are we living in?'”
He said the people pulling these hoaxes want to cause disruptions and “watch the world burn.”
The New York State United Teachers union put a statement on the recent “swatting” attacks.
“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,” NYSUT wrote in a statement.
Swatting is defined as a criminal harassment tactic that involves deceiving an emergency dispatch service into sending police to another person’s address. Swatting is dangerous and can sometimes be fatal. In 2017, an innocent Kansas man was killed by police after Tyler Rai Barriss, of Los Angeles, made a false report about a fake hostage situation. Barriss was sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison in 2019.
In an email to staff obtained by the Enterprise on Thursday, Superintendent Diane Fox notified staff of the hoax calls and asked staff to relieve concerns students had.
“Although an algorithm probably chose the schools that were targeted based on some formula, there initially doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason,” Fox wrote. “That means our local police departments could be next. Should that happen, the school(s) will be notified and we will move into a lockdown until the building is deemed safe by law enforcement.
“Social media falsehoods took an already stressful situation to new heights for students, families and staff,” she added.
Fox said she longed for the days when the big threat was someone falsely pulling the fire alarm.
Fox said Saranac Lake Police Chief Darin Perrotte notified the school, saying his officers would “keep a strong presence around the schools” and to let him know if they needed anything.
“Saranac Lake police are in communication with school administrators and are taking all necessary precautions and remaining vigilant for the safety of our community,” Perrotte wrote in a press release. “As always, if you see or hear something suspicious, please report it.”
In recent years, false threats of school violence have become an almost annual occurrence.
In December 2021, schools around the country were hit with fake threats of planned violence on social media, part of a string of hoaxes spreading on TikTok at the time. These warnings were unspecific to any one district and were unsubstantiated.
Tri-Lakes schools continued classes as normal.
New York State Police investigated a threat a juvenile in Clinton County made over the social media app Snapchat and Beekmantown Central School District Superintendent Daniel Mannix said that the person was facing “severe” consequences.
In June 2022, weeks after two mass shootings at a supermarket in Buffalo and a school in Uvalde, Texas, an 11-year-old student at the Tupper Lake Middle-High School was charged with making a terroristic threat, a felony.
“The threat was not legitimate,” Bartlett said at the time.
Two days later, at a Saranac Lake High School assembly on school security, a student allegedly made a hand gesture — something to the effect of making a gun shape with their hands. Students who saw the gesture reported it to school staff, who notified the SLPD. The student was brought to Adirondack Medical Center for a mental health evaluation and Perrotte said “there was no credible threat” at the time.