Threat that closed down L.A. schools appears to be hoax, congressman says (Los Angeles Times)
The threat that prompted Los Angeles Unified School officials to close all schools appears to be a hoax, a U.S. Congressman on the House Intelligence committee said.
"The preliminary assessment is that it was a hoax or something designed to disrupt school districts in large cities. The investigation is ongoing as to where the threat originated from and who was responsible," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said in a statement.
Another local congressman, Brad Sherman, said the person who sent an email threat to several Los Angeles Unified School board members claimed to be "an extremist Muslim who has teamed up with local jihadists," according to Congressman Brad Sherman.
"The email makes relatively specific and wide-ranging threats to Los Angeles schools," said Sherman (D-Los Angeles), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"The text of the email does not demonstrate that the author has studied Islam or has any particular understanding of Islam," he added. The only thing known, Sherman said, was that the email was "sent by an evil person."
The email also mentioned explosive devices, assault rifles and pistols and was traced to an IP address in Frankfurt, Germany, according to law enforcement sources.
All campuses were closed Tuesday morning after receiving what officials have called a "credible threat" of violence involving backpacks and packages left at campuses. Still, one law enforcement source familiar with the evidence said there was no sign that "this individual is actually capable of carrying out the threat."
Law enforcement sources also said that the person who made the threats could have masked their location and that the origin is believed to be much closer than Germany. District officials have been looking into the threat since at least 10 p.m. Monday, according to a school police source. The FBI and LAPD are assisting the investigation.
Authorities said they plan to search all of LAUSD's more than 900 schools, including charter schools and special education centers. The nation's second-largest school district, LAUSD has more than 700,000 students.
"Somebody has sent information that leads us to pause," LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines said.
“What we are doing today is no different than what we normally do, except that we are doing it in a mass way,” he added.
Shortly after the district announced the closures, a 17-year-old male student was struck and killed by a city service truck while crossing a Highland Park street. The boy was near Avenue 60 and Figueroa Street at about 7:30 a.m., when he was hit, Los Angeles Police Officer Jane Kim said.
New York authorities were also responding to an emailed threat made to city schools, but said it was not credible and that they were concerned about overreacting.
"These threats are made to promote fear...we can not allow us to raise the levels of fear," New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton tweeted. He added that the agency was working closely with the FBI and the LAPD.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said because the email appeared "so generic, so outlandish" it couldn't be taken seriously.
"It would be a huge disservice to our nation to close down our school system," he said.
The massive closure across the Los Angeles region comes less than two weeks after two shooters killed 14 people in San Bernardino in what was the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
Officials said the threat was aimed at all LA Unified schools.
LAPD Assistant Chief Jorge Villegas said schools were closed "in an abundance of caution."
“Nothing is [more] important to us than the safety of our kids,” he said.
Mayor Eric Garcetti cautioned the public about jumping to conclusions. "Decisions need to be made in a matter of minutes," he said. "We will continue to hope that this is nothing and that our children will be back in school tomorrow."
Students who already arrived at school will be supervised until parents can pick them up, officials said. LAUSD instructed parents and guardians to bring identification with them.
Athletic events were canceled, but at least one team was in search of an off-campus site for football practice. Harbor City Narbonne, the only LAUSD school still playing in a state football bowl game, was eventually offered a practice field at a Catholic school in Gardena.
Brian Levin, a terror expert at Cal State San Bernardino, said the closure was unprecedented and could embolden others to make future threats.
"In today's environment it makes sense to err on the side of safety, even though they almost always are hoaxes," he said.
As families scrambled to reroute their days, many students could be found outside in their neighborhoods.
Ana Rodriguez, a sixth-grader at Sunrise Elementary School in Boyle Heights, walked with her older sister to pick up coffee and bread for an unexpected breakfast at home.
The 11-year-old worried about her teachers and was nervous at the thought of returning to school the next day.
“I’m scared that a bomb could explode at my school,” she said.
Other students showed little concern about the threat and were happy to have a break from finals.
"I was ready for the AP Spanish test, but not history," said Alexis Diaz, a senior at Roosevelt High. Sipping a steaming hot chocolate, he and his younger brother glided by the deserted campus on hoverboards.
When he saw a newscast announcing the closures, he took a photo and posted it on Snapchat. He added the words, "No school" and a surprised-face emoji.
Miguel Real, 13, rode his skateboard in Highland Park, having just been sent home from Burbank Middle School. He was on his way to tell the news to his mother who had known nothing about classes being canceled.
"She's going to freak," he said.
Earlier in the day, Zayda Hernandez had been turned away from Mayberry Elementary in Echo Park. Her 6-year-old son, Matthew Alvarez, sat in the back seat of her car, bundled up in a coat and SpongeBob stocking cap.
Matthew hasn't been feeling well lately, but Hernandez has been urging him to just make it through the last few days of school before winter break.
She pulled up to see paper signs attached to the closed chain-link fence outside the school: “No school today.” “Hoy no hay escuela.”
She shook her head. She had to go to work.
But her son, a kindergartener, grinned.
LAUSD Board President Steve Zimmer urged school employees to stay home.
“I want to be very clear: We need cooperation of the whole of Los Angeles today,” Zimmer said, asking employers to show patience for parents looking to find childcare.
Private schools across the region were also affected by the threat. Hope Street Friends, a daycare and preschool in downtown Los Angeles, said it was closed due to "a credible terrorist threat." Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girls school in La Canada, notified parents that a "dedicated security team" would be stationed throughout the school.
Adjacent school districts, including South Pasadena Unified and Long Beach Unified, sent notices to parents about the threat to LAUSD that said they were not impacted and would remain open.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said his agency reviewed the threat before contacting the FBI. He called any criticism of the school closures "irresponsible" at this point.
"Southern California has been through a lot in the past few weeks," he said. "Should we put our children through the same thing?"
Source: Los Angeles Times
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