By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
Twenty one schools across Vermont, including in Alburgh, Milton, Colchester and Swanton, were subjected this morning to false reports of active shooters or gun incidents.
“These calls were a hoax—an act of terrorism designed to create chaos and stoke fear that can be exploited," Gov. Phil Scott said in a statement.
“These events are unnerving for everyone – students, teachers, parents and Vermonters. We can use this energy to come together because unity is the most powerful way to ensure terrorists do not achieve their goals," Scott said.
Public Safety Commissioner Jennifer Morrison said there were 21 schools impacted by the calls starting at 8:30 a.m. They covered 10 of the 14 counties and ranged from Alburgh to Brattleboro and from Bennington to Derby.
She said it appeared to be a large-scale swatting scenario and the investigation was continuing.
The bogus report in Alburgh was initially made to the Town Offices and not the school, according to Grand Isle County Sheriff Ray Allen. He said he thought the caller apparently wanted somebody else to make the 911 call, which are recorded.
Allen said he had a couple of deputy sheriffs at the Alburgh Community Education Center (ACEC) within a couple of minutes. The deputies confirmed it was a hoax.
The other 20 false reports were called into police agencies, Morrison said.
Authorities are still sorting out the hoax calls, but perhaps the most serious one appears to have been received in Montpelier, where the report said two people had been shot at the high school, police said.
Colchester Police said they received a report at 9:39 a.m. that several students and a teacher were injured. Officers responded, did a sweep of the school and cleared from the scene about 10:15 a.m., Chief Doug Allen said.
He said by coincidence Colchester Police was hosting a training session involving other departments and those officers also responded to the emergency call.
Milton High and Missisquoi Valley Union High School in Swanton also received threats, police said.
Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington, which has students from the Champlain Islands region, also had a similar call, Police Chief Shawn Burke said.
"No acts of violence have been discovered," Burke said. The officers cleared from Rice about 10:15 a.m.
Scott, along with law enforcement and education officials hosted a noon news conference to outline what they knew. Also on hand were key legislative leaders.
When asked about giving attention to the publicity-seeking hoaxer, Scott said transparency trumps other options when it comes to major incidents.
Education Secretary Dan French said other schools besides the 21 may also take safety steps today.
Grand Isle Supervisory Union Superintendent Michael Clark said local officials reacted swiftly.
"Our GISU Administration worked with the Grand Isle Sheriff’s Department and our admin staff at ACEC and the other schools in GISU to quickly determine that our buildings were safe and that we followed our safety protocols. Out of an abundance of caution we will have indoor recess today," Clark wrote.
"These calls appear to be associated with ongoing nationwide hoax phone threats of school shootings, bomb threats, etc. and the Vermont Intelligence Center is not aware of any credible threats related to these phone calls," he noted.
"As always, the GISU will continue to take precautions around the safety of our students and staff. If there are any updates or new information, we will be sure to share that with each of you. We are grateful for our partnership with the Grand Isle Sheriff's Department," Clark said.
Scott also appreciated the work of police responding to all the emergencies.
“I want to thank the Vermont State Police, local law enforcement and emergency response offices across the state for acting quickly and professionally based on the initial calls.
“My office, the Agency of Education, Vermont State Police, Vermont Intelligence Center and local partners will continue to monitor this situation closely, and in the days ahead, after all the facts are gathered, we will debrief on this incident to strengthen our response," the Governor said.