Threat to Danville school was a ‘hoax,’ police chief says

Published 4:09 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2019

A threat to the Danville Schools Wednesday caused the district to issue a “shelter in place” command and then evacuate students so the buildings could be swept by first responders.

Danville Police Chief Tony Gray confirmed Wednesday afternoon the bomb threat was “a hoax.”

It took a little more than an hour for police to issue an “all clear,” Superintendent Tammy McDonald said. “That happened just in time for us to have normal dismissal.”

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McDonald was alerted to the threat at around 1:30 p.m. She said Wednesday afternoon she can’t talk about the specifics of the threat yet because police are still investigating.

“We did have a threat made to one of our schools,” McDonald said. “So of course, we took immediate action and enacted all of our emergency procedures, which includes calling local law enforcement. We didn’t necessarily believe it was a high-level threat, but you have to take all threats small or large seriously, which we did.”

Gray said a threat was made to a specific elementary school by someone using an app that made it next to impossible to tell where it came from. It could even have been made by someone halfway around the world.

Police have reached out to other law enforcement agencies to see if they know of any technology that would allow them to track down the caller, but “I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to lock that down,” Gray said. “… At this point, we are unable to place the exact origins of that threat because of technology — spoofing technology.”

Spoofing is when someone masks the phone number they are calling from by making it appear to be coming from a different number. Most people encounter spoofing when a scammer calls them from a number with their same area code or initial three digits.

After the threat was made, the schools initially entered “shelter in place” protocols, during which no one at the schools goes outside, but the school day progresses normally inside, McDonald said. During shelter in place, all classroom doors and outside doors at the schools are locked — but McDonald noted that’s already everyday practice at the schools.

Soon, students were evacuated from the buildings as they would be for a fire drill and first responders — Danville police and firefighters — swept the buildings.

Gray said fire drills were used because “you want the kids and staff to exit the school in an orderly and safe manner, quickly. … The fire alarm — they think it’s a drill and you can get them out without creating a huge atmosphere.”

Gray said an important piece of handling threats like this is preventing something the threats are supposed to cause — fear.

“You try to minimize the fear factor,” he said. “There’s enough going on in the world.”

“After the walk-throughs, we did not find anything that we believed was threat-worthy,” Gray said. “… It appears it was a fake call.”

Around 2:30 or 2:45 p.m. is when McDonald got the final “all clear,” allowing students to go back inside and returning the school day to normal. McDonald said no after-school activities were affected and there will be no effect on school tomorrow.

“I am very, very impressed by the performance of our school administrators, teachers and staff in response to this threat,” she said, explaining that even bus drivers “mobilized very quickly” to be ready to transport students elsewhere or take them home if early dismissal would have been necessary. “… They did a great job. That’s not just teachers and instructional assistants and principals … we literally had the entire district mobilized and on standby within minutes. It was an amazing, amazing response by all of our faculty and staff.”