Schools in at least seven Delaware districts went into lockdown mode Thursday after threatening calls were received by police.
Officers responded after threats to buildings in the Lake Forest, Capital, Indian River, Milford, Smyrna, Cape Henlopen and Colonial districts, Delaware State Police said.
Delaware State Police said Thursday afternoon that the calls about threats of active shooters at various schools were determined to be hoaxes.
Officials from various districts released updates through the morning, and police assured the public of its safety while officers maintained watch over the schools.
Similar incidents were reported outside Delaware, as well, state police spokesman Senior Cpl. Jason Hatchell said.
The calls have been determined to be a form of “swatting” — when a prank call is made to emergency services in an attempt to generate a large police response at a particular address.
Cpl. Hatchell said state police is teaming up “with allied law enforcement agencies to thoroughly investigate this incident and ensure the safety of our children and the community as a whole.”
Police ask anyone with information to contact Delaware Crime Stoppers at 800-847-3333. Anyone who provides information leading to a successful arrest is eligible for a cash reward of up to $5,000. To report suspicious activity, call 911 or the Delaware Anti-Terrorism Tip Line at 800-367-2312.
In Lake Forest, director of human resources Travis Moorman said the Harrington Police Department reported that it had received a call regarding a supposed active-shooter situation at Lake Forest South Elementary School between 9:30 and 9:45 a.m.
Mr. Moorman said the elementary school and nearby W.T. Chipman Middle were then placed on lockdown before all district schools followed about 10 minutes later. The lockdown was lifted at 1 p.m., he said.
While activities continued in a limited fashion, Mr. Moorman said the low-level lockdown “most certainly put everyone on edge. But it’s the world we live in these days, unfortunately.”
Meanwhile, in a message addressed to “Senator Nation,” the Capital School District reported that the Dover Police Department had received a 911 call at approximately 9 a.m., regarding a potentially armed person at South Dover Elementary.
Following the call and “out of an abundance of caution,” South Dover Elementary was placed on lockdown for approximately 30 minutes, the message read.
The lockdown allowed for a search of the building and grounds “to eliminate any potential threats.” No weapons or other threats were found, the message added.
Further, outside activities were limited the rest of the day, and an extra security presence was maintained throughout the district.
Recess was canceled at schools, and visitors were limited to only secure areas in all facilities.
“We treat all alerts seriously and are taking these extra steps to ensure our students’ and staff’s safety,” the message stated.
Shortly after 3 p.m., Capital announced that it had resumed normal functions.
Also, Capital saluted the collaboration of its safety and security team with the responding Dover police.
The message urged anyone who “see(s) anything suspicious, (to) please report it immediately.”
Full prosecution would be rendered for “anyone involved in pranks that compromise the safety and well-being of our school community,” it added.
Dover Police Master Cpl. Ryan Schmid said that, once the call was received, officers responded and “checked the school and did not locate anything consistent with the details of the call.”
Additionally, he said, “The safety of our citizens is a top priority of the Dover Police Department, and we will continue to be proactive in keeping the students and staff of Capital School District and our community safe.”
In Milford, the school district also issued a statement to families Thursday morning. It said that, while an investigation was taking place ,“it has been determined by the Milford Police Department that there is no threat to the safety of our students or staff.”
The earlier full lockdown of schools was set to be transitioned to low-level “with all students and staff remaining inside the building.”
Milford police remained at schools for the rest of the day.
The Millsboro and Georgetown police departments received threats, as well, which brought an increased law enforcement presence in the Indian River School District.
Delaware State Police said the Millsboro agency received a threat regarding Millsboro Middle School. Millsboro Elementary was also placed on lockdown.
Meantime, Georgetown police received a threat involving Georgetown Middle, which was locked down along with Georgetown Elementary and North Georgetown Elementary.
An automated phone call made to Indian River families at around 11 a.m. said, “Similar threats have been received at schools statewide. We have increased security at our schools, and police investigations have determined that the threats were not credible.
“Lockdown procedures have been lifted at the impacted schools, and all students and staff are safe. Schools have resumed normal operations.”
Cape Henlopen’s message to parents, sent at 9:52 a.m., said, “At this point, it does not appear to be credible but as a precaution, we have placed our schools on a low-level lockdown and our emergency response procedures have been activated.”
Around 10:15, Lewes Police Chief Thomas Spell said officers had responded to Cape Henlopen’s schools and that “everything is fine.”
Officers remained at the buildings as a precautionary measure, he added.
In the Smyrna School District, all schools were referenced in a call to the Smyrna Police Department, authorities said.
Further, New Castle city police received a call referencing New Castle Elementary School in the Colonial School District, police said.
Chief Marcus Whitney said the Camden Police Department received no threats, but Caesar Rodney schools went into a lockdown upon learning about the situation in the Capital School District.
Polytech School District spokesman Nick Johnston said that, while no threatening calls were received, the district remained in regular contact with state police, while monitoring the situation.
Polytech also messaged its community to provide information at around 10:30 a.m., he said.
“We were certainly aware of what was occurring at other schools and stayed on heightened alert as the day progressed,” he said.