Wednesday 24 January 2018

LA closes all public schools after emailed terror threat

But New York officials claim threatening messages are a hoax linked to TV show 'Homeland'

A sign at Venice High School in Los Angeles, California. All public schools in Los Angeles, the second-largest school district in the United States, were closed yesterday due to an emailed threat
A sign at Venice High School in Los Angeles, California. All public schools in Los Angeles, the second-largest school district in the United States, were closed yesterday due to an emailed threat

Christopher Weber in Los Angeles

All public schools in the Los Angeles area were ordered to be closed yesterday after an emailed threat targeted students at many of the schools.

It emerged that similar threats were emailed to schools across the US.

In Los Angeles, the shooting in nearby San Bernardino that left 14 people dead earlier this month clearly influenced the decision to close all the schools, which 640,000 students attend, Superintendent Ramon Cortines said.

Last night, NBC News reported that the sender of the email received by both New York and Los Angeles officials claimed to be a high school senior who had been bullied and was going to come back with an army and attack schools.

He said he had 32 accomplices and a nerve agent, as well as explosives and automatic weapons.

The letter sent to LA substituted in references to Los Angeles for references to New York.

Brad Sherman, a Congressman from California, claimed that the Los Angeles note may have appeared more credible because the references to New York schools did not all make sense. But there were many conflicting claims.

One detective said that the threat also included the use of explosive devices and automatic weapons.

"The implied threat was explosive devices. The specific threat was attack with assault rifles and machine pistols."

However, in New York, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton claimed the threats could have been inspired by the popular TV series 'Homeland'.

"In reviewing it, the instigator of the threat may be a 'Homeland' fan, basically watching 'Homeland' episodes. It mirrors recent episodes on 'Homeland'."

The mayor of New York, Bill De Blasio, later claimed that the alert was "a hoax".

Reacting to the threats received against schools in the city area, he said: "The immediate assessment by the intelligence division, again in consultation with the FBI, was that there was nothing credible about the threat. It was so generic, so outlandish and posed to numerous school districts simultaneously ... the assumption of the NYPD (was) exactly the same, that, in fact, it would be a huge disservice to our nation to close down our school system."

Mr Bratton confirmed that New York and other school districts received the same threat as the one emailed to an LA school board member.

Detectives would not elaborate on the threats, saying they were still being evaluated, but said the shutdown in LA came as a precaution.

Schools would remain closed until the threat was cleared, which could happen by the end of the day, officials said.

Los Angeles schools frequently get threats, but Mr Cortines called this one rare.

He said: "It was not to one school, two schools or three schools.

"It was many schools, not specifically identified. But there were many schools. That's the reason I took the action that I did ... It was [a threat] to students at schools."

Mr Cortines said he wanted every campus to be searched and a report given to him and the school board that they are safe.

The district has more than 900 schools and 187 public charter schools.

Mr Cortines said the district police chief informed him about the threat shortly after 5am.

He added: "He shared with me that some of the details talked about backpacks, talked about other packages."

The closure came the same day classes were cancelled at San Bernardino Valley College because of a bomb threat.

Students and staff were sent home around 5.30 pm on Monday after the threat was made.

Irish Independent

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