ON AIR NOW

LISTEN NOW

Weather

cloudy-day
76°
Partly Cloudy
H -° L 68°
  • cloudy-day
    76°
    Current Conditions
    Partly Cloudy. H -° L 68°
  • cloudy-day
    Today
    Partly Cloudy. H -° L 68°
  • cloudy-day
    90°
    Tomorrow
    Partly Cloudy. H 90° L 68°
LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb news on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb traffic on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb weather on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

Local
DeKalb threats show school security more than a local issue
Close

DeKalb threats show school security more than a local issue

DeKalb threats show school security more than a local issue
Parents hug one another upset after Montgomery Elementary School was on lockdown Thursday morning because of a bomb threat. Dunwoody High School and Chesnut, Dunwoody, and Vanderlyn elementary schools also received threats, which police said turned out not to be credible. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

DeKalb threats show school security more than a local issue

An email at 10:55 a.m. Thursday from Vanderlyn Elementary School had Renee Harris wondering if she should get her daughters from school. For the second time in less than a month, the school was on lockdown from a bomb threat.

“Part of me doesn’t want to do that because it could create more fear,” she told The AJC in a phone interview.

The school was one of five in DeKalb County that received a threat Thursday morning. Others were Dunwoody High School and Chestnut, Dunwoody and Montgomery elementary schools. One of the schools, Dunwoody Elementary School, was evacuated as a precaution.

While none of the threats turned out to be credible (most aren’t), they disrupted learning, scared children and parents and pulled resources from other areas. Brookhaven and Dunwoody police said the Thursday threats appeared similar to those in November that involved a series of phone calls and social media posts police said were “prank threats.” In today’s vernacular it’s call swatting — calling in a hoax so emergency services dispatch personnel.

Hours after DeKalb school lockdowns were lifted, bomb threats flooded in to businesses in metro Atlanta, and nationwide, with some demanding payment in bitcoin. Those threats were also not believed to be credible.

Harris recalled the last time it happened, when her daughters hid in the bathroom for 25 minutes as school officials and police investigated a threat against the school. That day, three other DeKalb elementary schools were also placed on lockdown.

“We’re tired of this,” Harris said. “It’s scary when we’re seeing police swarm the schools, and we don’t know what’s going on. (Children) shouldn’t have to live like this and we shouldn’t have to live in fear.”

To combat these events, a united front among school administrators and police, local, state and federal law enforcement is becoming an effective tool, GBI Director Vernon Keenan said. And while civilians may not see a lot happening on the surface, he said agencies are working together to insure everyone’s safety as well as catch the perpetrators.

The agency has been working on school-safety initiatives for the past year with Georgia State Police, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Homeland Security department. An app and tip line called “See Something, Send Something” has been manned 24/7 since Aug.1.

“The most important component of any safety program is people calling in information,” he said. “In almost every credible threat at least five people had prior knowledge of what was going to happen.”

School threats are on the rise, even as the total number of U.S.bomb threats has dropped.

The number of total bomb threats decreased from a high of 1,724 in 2013 to 1,228 in 2017, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice. And although data isn’t available for arrests, technology has made it more likely that a person sending threats will face criminal charges.

“And if they cross state lines or international borders, the consequences can fall on them like a ton of bricks,” said Ken Trump, national security expert.

But 20 percent of U.S. bomb threats are those made against schools, and the past year has seen a 30 percent increase in school bomb threats.

That didn’t go unnoticed Thursday — a day before the sixth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman shot and killed 20 children as well as six staff members before killing himself.

As the fear subsided, parents were upset about DeKalb County Schools’ communication process.

Dunwoody Elementary parent Felecia Wyatt said she received a text notification about the threat 10 minutes after she arrived.

“I saw the police come in and didn’t know what was going on,” she said. When the principal told her it was a bomb threat, she and her child left the school.

“I just thought it was the fire alarm going off because saw the lights flashing in the school,” she said. “I didn’t think too much of it until heard it was a bomb threat. I was upset, immediately grabbed my daughter and I left.”

DeKalb schools apologized for communication breakdown.

“Communications to parents at Dunwoody Elementary were not effective in this case due to violations of our emergency notification protocol, which led to communication occurring out of order and that was incomplete,” the district said in a statement.

John Snowden, a Montgomery Elementary parent, said he was in a meeting at his job in Smyrna when he received a text notification about the lockdown.

“She’s my only child. She’s in pre-K and only four,” he said as he was leaving the school. “There wasn’t a lot of detail in the alert, so I had a million different scenarios of what could be happening.”

Snowden said no one inside the school told him what was going on but he was told where he could pick up his daughter.

“They were being very quiet about the situation and weren’t giving any details,” he said. “I wonder why they didn’t evacuate the school instead of placing it on lockdown.”

Evacuation isn’t always the best solution, said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.

“Most schools are sound enough to protect most students if there was, in fact, a bomb,” he said. Something small enough to bring into a school unnoticed would most likely be detected by bomb-sniffing dogs or a general sweep,” Canady added.

A mass evacuation can cause chaos. Or worse, put students in the crosshairs of an active shooter.

Trump agreed.

That’s why training for such scenarios is important for police, school administrators and all school personnel.

“They know what to do and why to do it,” Trump said.

Hoax call or ‘swatting’?

Pulled fired alarms or phoned-in threats have been used by students, angry workers or family members for years to disrupt schools, businesses and lives.

“Swatting” is a fairly new term that refers to sometimes elaborate false phone calls or messages reporting extreme dangers that cause the dispatch of a police SWAT team and other emergency service workers. Police must take the call seriously, and that may result in forced entries or actions by officers. Earlier this year, a swatting “prank” call ended with a young man killed. The young man who made the call is facing more than 20 years in prison on multiple charges.

Technology that masks where a phone call or electronic message originates from typically plays a role in swatting.

Read More

News

  • Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has agreed to testify publicly in House hearings on July 17. >> Read more trending news House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said in a joint statement that the special counsel has agreed to testify about the Trump-Russia report he issued in April. The Justice Department declined to comment. >> MORE: Mueller resigns as Special Counsel, refuses to exonerate Trump on obstruction The committees have been in negotiations with Mueller for more than two months about his testimony. But he has been hesitant to testify and speak about the investigation beyond a public statement he issued last month. >> Read the latest from our Washington Insider, Jamie Dupree  In a letter to Mueller accompanying the subpoenas, the committee chairmen said “the American public deserves to hear directly from you about your investigation and conclusions.” President Donald Trump has denied all wrongdoing and consistently framed Mueller’s investigation as an expensive and politically motivated “witch hunt” aimed at hurting his presidency.  Late Tuesday, Trump appeared to respond to the news in a tweet. “Presidential Harassment!” he wrote. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Scientists at the University of St. Andrews taught three young gray seals to sing, literally. >> Read more trending news Seals, which generally bark, and other marine mammals are known for some of the sounds they make. Whales sing, dolphins click, penguins peep and walruses bellow. Researchers, though, were able to train the three young seals to bark out the notes to the opening bars of the theme from “Star Wars” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The research is published in the journal Current Biology. It’s not just that teaching a seal to sing is an interesting project, St. Andrews scientists said they wanted to learn more about how seals communicate with each other, according to Smithsonian magazine. Knowing how seals communicate in the wild could become important in the future to conservation efforts.
  • An Orlo Vista, Florida, man believes someone brutally tortured and killed his dog after finding it burned to death in an ash pile down the street from his home. >> Read more trending news The Chihuahua, Stink, never left the side of Rick Parmenter. 'She was so wonderful,' Parmenter told WFTV. 'Anyone who has been to a concert in the Orlando area knows Stink.' Rick's grandson found the dog's charred remains with her collar still on in an ash pile surrounded by beer cans and bottles behind a business. The family posted missing signs and even offered a $200 reward after Stink escaped the family home Saturday morning. Rick said he cannot imagine why someone would hurt such a little dog. Animal crime investigators continue to search for clues and speak with those who live nearby while officials conduct a necropsy to learn how exactly Stink died. 'The findings on that will help, you know how forensics are these days,' said Paramenter. 'So we'll see what happens.' Although the family has its suspicions about who might have been involved with the dog's death, no one has been arrested for the crime.
  • A lightning-sparked smoky wildfire burning through the Florida Everglades has more than doubled in size since it started Sunday night. >> Read more trending news  The fire has consumed 32,000 acres, according to the Florida Forest Service, and is only 30% contained, but no buildings are threatened at this time. The fire, about eight miles outside the city of Weston, started just north of Alligator Alley, a busy stretch of Interstate 75, and a few miles away from a state highway. “Wildfires can strengthen quickly and threaten public safety — drivers traveling along Alligator Alley should remain vigilant, monitor media for safety alerts and the status of I-75, and follow guidelines from state and local officials,” state Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried told WFOR-TV. One of the biggest concerns right now is the heavy smoke in the air, and the westerly winds blowing it along roadways and into western Broward County. The smoke is a respiratory irritant and cause scratchy throats, irritated noses and eyes and worsen asthma conditions, WFOR reported. >> Trending: ‘Well-loved’ American heart doctor gunned down in Belize along with tour guide People and pets living in areas where the smoke is settling should stay indoors, state officials warned. >> Read more trending news
  • A North Carolina sheriff's captain said he is not a hero after saving a girl's life while he was off-duty.  >> Read more trending news  Nash County Captain Allen Wilson said he was enjoying a day at Atlantic Beach Sunday when he noticed several kids and one of them was drifting from shore.  She was on a float, but a wave knocked her off. She tried to swim to it, but couldn't reach it.  Wilson said he quickly grabbed a boogie board and a pool noodle and ran into the ocean to help her.  'Got close and asked her if she could swim and she was panicking, you could tell she was panicking,' Wilson said. 'By this time I was already getting pretty exhausted so I knew if we could just get enough, maybe one of the waves would pick us up and bring us. And it did, thank the Lord, we were able to get a little closer and a little closer.'  Officials said both of them made it to shore safely.  Wilson said he is getting a lot of praise for his heroism, but he is deflecting that to someone else.  >> Trending: VIDEO: The moment deputies save baby girl wrapped in plastic bag on roadside 'It's not about me, I'll be the first to tell you,' Wilson said. 'God, I believe, placed me there and he gave me the tools to use to go get this young girl.' Wilson said on a good day, he can barely swim the length of a pool, yet the girl was about 100-yards from shore. 
  • A roller coaster ride took a terrfiying turn for a metro Pittsburgh family over the turned terrifying at Pennsylvania's Kennywood amusement park. >> Read more trending news A father says his daughter’s seat belt unlatched mid-ride on the Phantom’s Revenge, and the proof is in a photo taken on the ride and shared with WPXI-TV. 'You can clearly see there was some shock and awe in their faces,' Dave Feehan said. Feehan's daughter was on the ride with her mother. He said that at first he didn't believe it. 'I said are you sure it wasn't loose, then she sent me the picture Kennywood actually took,' he said. When the ride came to a stop, the family flagged down the operator who reassured them everything was OK. A Kennywood spokesperson said the ride was inspected and given the green light. Additionally, the park reviewed the surveillance video and confirmed that when the operator checked the seat belt and lap restraint they were both fastened. The park is owned by Palace Entertainment, and on Tuesday afternoon the executive director of Maintenance showed Channel 11 how the safety measures on the ride work. 'It's an extremely robust system and not one we have any concerns about at all,' Jeffrey Savelisky said. Additionally, Kennywood says seat belts aren't even required on that particular ride, but are there for added comfort. >> Trending: VIDEO: The moment deputies save baby girl wrapped in plastic bag on roadside Feehan said he's bringing the concerns forward because he wouldn't be able to live with himself if something were to happen. 'Sometimes you have to skyline things, especially if it scares you. It scared the hell out of me,' he said.