ON AIR NOW

LISTEN NOW

Weather

clear-night
50°
Sunny
H 64° L 39°
  • clear-night
    50°
    Current Conditions
    Sunny. H 64° L 39°
  • clear-day
    64°
    Today
    Sunny. H 64° L 39°
  • clear-day
    68°
    Tomorrow
    Sunny. H 68° L 42°
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

  • A paraprofessional in a Texas school district was fired from a high school after she was accused of sending sexually explicit photos and videos of herself by Snapchat to a 15-year-old student, the Houston Chronicle reported. >> Read more trending news  According to court records, Kelsie Rochelle Koepke, 25, of Katy, allegedly sent nude photos of herself to the student at Paetow High School, where she worked, through the Snapchat application, the newspaper reported. Koepke was charged with improper relationship with a student, a second-degree felony, and solicitation of a minor, according to the Chronicle. She was released on a $15,000 bond, the newspaper reported. According to court documents, Koepke exchanged Snapchat information with the student around October 2017, and began a chat relationship with him, KTRK reported. Koepke used the nicknames 'kelsie_koepke' and 'Momma K,' the television station reported, citing court documents. The conversations allegedly turned sexual in nature, and “she instructed him not to save any of their chats,' according to court documents. Koepke then allegedly sent the first set of nude photos and videos of herself on homecoming night, KTRK reported. Koepke told investigators she thought she was sending the nude photos to someone else, the Chronicle reported. When she found out she was sending the photos to a student, she said she did not delete him from Snapchat because she wanted to “keep the peace,” the newspaper reported, citing court records. The student allegedly receiving the photos and videos reported what happened to school officials on Feb. 28, KTRK reported. Paetow High School Principal Mindy Dickerson sent a letter out to parents advising them of the situation, the Chronicle reported.
  • If you enjoy viral posts, a “Little Mermaid”-themed hairdo of a girl who attends a Houston preschool is part of your world.  >> Read more trending news  Atlantis Castillo sported braided hair to resemble the ponytail of Ariel, the main character in the Disney movie classic, “The Little Mermaid,” KTRK reported. It was part of a crazy hair day theme at Clear Lake United Methodist Church’s preschool, the television station reported. Ariel Romero posted photos of her younger sister’s hairstyle on Twitter, and they created a wave of positive reaction on social media. “My sister had crazy hair day at school today and my mom was not playing games and really wanted her to win,” Romero tweeted Tuesday. The hairstyle featured a bright green-colored braid that looked like a mermaid tail, topped by an Ariel doll on Atlantis’ head that resembled a hair pick. The hairstyle was created by Atlantis’ mother, KHOU reported. “My mom did the mermaid because my name is Ariel and my sister is Atlantis which is where Ariel lives under the sea,” Romero tweeted. “We’ve grown up loving mermaids thanks to my parents.” 
  • City Council members in San Antonio approved a concession agreement at the city’s airport that will exclude Chick-fil-A, KSAT reported. >> Read more trending news  By a 6-4 vote, the council approved the Food, Beverage and Retail Prime Concession Agreement with Paradies Lagardère at the San Antonio International Airport. The motion to exclude the Atlanta-based chicken chain from the airport was brought to the floor by council member Roberto Treviño, WOAI reported. Chick-fil-A has a history of donating to anti-LGBTQ organizations, and the city’s vote was applauded by the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio, a local LGBTQ political action committee, KSAT reported. “The LGBTQ community is excited that the City Council has decided to look for restaurants that support all Americans in our airport,” Chris Forbrich, a co-chairman of the organization, told the television station. Treviño released a statement Friday, saying the decision “reaffirmed the work our city has done to become a champion of equality and inclusion.” “San Antonio is a city full of compassion, and we do not have room in our public facilities for a business with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior,” Treviño said. 'Everyone has a place here, and everyone should feel welcome when they walk through our airport. I look forward to the announcement of a suitable replacement by Paradies.” Chick-fil-A released a statement, calling the action “disappointing.” “This is the first we’ve heard of this. It’s disappointing. We would have liked to have had a dialogue with the city council before this decision was made,” the company said in its statement. “We agree with Council member Treviño that everyone is and should feel welcome at Chick-fil-A. We plan to reach out to the city council to gain a better understanding of this decision.”
  • The U.S. Coast Guard offloaded more than 27,000 pounds of cocaine in Miami Beach that was seized in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. >> Read more trending news  'It will all be offloaded by the Coast Guard Cutter Tampa today in Miami Beach Florida and sent for destruction,' the Coast Guard said in a Facebook post.  The Coast Guard said in a news release that the drugs are worth an estimated $360 million. The cocaine was seized in 12 separate operations off the coasts of Mexico, Central America and South America during a three-month period.  Using #notonourstreets, the Coast Guard posted video on Facebook of the seizure, saying, “Here’s what 27,000 lbs. of cocaine looks like.”  'It takes a collaborative and sophisticated network to defeat a criminal network,' Deputy Commandant for Operations VADM Daniel Abel said in a news conference. The news release also stated: 'The Coast Guard, Navy, Customs and Border Protection, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement along with allied and international partner agencies play a role in counter-drug operations.  The cutter Tampa even participated in the first joint boarding in recent memory between the United States and Ecuador. The fight against transnational organized crime networks in the Eastern Pacific and the Caribbean Basin requires unity of effort in all phases from detection, monitoring, and interdictions, to prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys in Florida, California, New York, the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere.
  • The Georgia mother of a teen who recently overdosed after vaping THC wax is speaking out, hoping other kids and parents become aware of the danger. THC is the active ingredient in cannabis. >> Read more trending news Lacey Turner, of Butts County, wants to spare other parents the anguish that she and her son Bailey went through. Turner told WSB-TV her son could barely keep his eyes open and his blood pressure was dangerously low at the time of the incident. “When I pulled up to the school, they were loading Bailey on the ambulance,' Turner said. Turner described the harrowing day in January when paramedics rushed her 16-year-old son to the hospital. She said he collapsed after taking a single hit of THC vaping wax, provided by a friend, in the high school cafeteria. 'He continued to vomit in the bathroom and passed out until someone came in and found him,” Turner said. After arriving at the hospital emergency room, the teen was still unconscious and had an extremely fast heartbeat and low blood pressure. 'Cognitively, he was completely disassociated. You pretty much had to slap him and get him to open his eyes,' Turner said. Turner, a nurse, first thought her son had overdosed on opioids, and so did the emergency room doctors. They administered an overdose reversing drug. “They gave him a shot of Narcan -- absolutely no change,' Turner said. Urine and blood tests told another story. “He was negative for anything in his system, except THC,' Turner said. Schools in metro Atlanta have reported students falling ill after vaping THC or synthetic THC. Turner believes the high potency is the problem. “This form of marijuana can be 85 to 90 percent concentrated with THC,” Turner said. The mother is thankful her son has fully recovered, but thoughts of what could have happened still haunt her. “My son could have passed out there in the bathroom, hit his head on the toilet on the way down and died of blunt force trauma,” Turner said. Turner said that when she posted her son's story on Facebook, she got responses from kids and parents across the country who had had the same experience.
  • A Florida man is facing child sex abuse charges after officials said he paid over $800 on an Uber to bring a teenage girl to Apopka. >> Read more trending news Police said 25-year-old Richard Brown raped the 17-year-old girl in his parents' home over the course of several days. The two met over Instagram after he told the victim that he was a 19-year-old Instagram celebrity and that he would 'take care of her.' The victim told Apopka police that Brown paid for an Uber to drive her from San Antonio, Texas, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In Louisiana, she got into another Uber that dropped her off in Apopka on Sunday. Brown would later show police receipts showing the second part of the trip that amounted to over $800. According to arrest documents, Brown told police he was 'only friends' with the victim and thought that she was of age and 'in need of a place to stay.' One neighbor couldn't believe the accusations. 'You might never know about it and now the cops are here,' said Amanda Trail. 'That's crazy for the parents.' The victim said once she realized Brown wasn't 19 or 'Instagram famous' that she wanted to go home. Brown then allegedly told her, 'no you owe me now for bringing you all the way here.' She later told officials that she escaped on Wednesday when Brown fell asleep and while she was on Snapchat with her mother. Police would locate her near Ustler and Wekiwa Preserve Drive, but said she wasn't able to point out which home belonged to the victim or what his name was on social media.  Brown's attorney took issue with the story, citing 'several inconsistencies.' Brown faces six felony counts of child sex abuse.