CHICAGO (Reuters) - A rash of email and phone threats of violence hit schools on Thursday from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., and from Florida to Texas, but most were deemed to be hoaxes and schools opened.
However, three suburban Indianapolis school districts reported potentially serious threats, with two districts shutting down on Thursday and another canceling classes for Friday.
Overnight, two students from Danville High School west of Indianapolis were arrested, accused of a separate set of threats made on Wednesday before the social media threats that prompted the closures.
Officials were on heightened alertness after the deadly attacks in San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 2. On Tuesday, Los Angeles shut down schools over emailed threats that later were deemed a hoax.
School districts in Houston, Dallas, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Miami all decided on Thursday that emailed threats were not credible and were similar to ones sent to schools in New York City and Los Angeles earlier this week.
All-clears were given after bomb threats on Thursday at East Orange Campus High School in New Jersey and at Anacostia and Frank W. Ballou Senior high schools in Washington, D.C., according to officials. At least two of those schools were temporarily evacuated.
The Indiana threats appeared to be different from the hoax emails sent to the larger school districts elsewhere in the country, Danville Community School Corporation Superintendent Tracy Shafer told Reuters.
“This seems to be more of a local situation and the perceived threats were posted to social media and were specific to our schools,” Shafer said.
Earlier, Danville Police Chief William Wright told reporters at a news conference that two Danville Community High School students, a freshman and a senior, were arrested after midnight on Thursday “due to threats received through social media.”
He said the two juveniles could be charged with intimidation and other crimes.
Wright and Shafer both said that further threats were made on Facebook after the arrests, apparently by another person who is still being sought. The later threats involved schools in Plainfield and Danville, prompting both districts to shut schools on Thursday.
Plainfield has six schools and about 5,400 students, while Danville has four schools and about 2,500 students.
South of Indianapolis, Franklin Community Schools, with close to 5,000 students at eight schools, evacuated its high school due to a threat on Thursday afternoon and said all of its schools would be closed on Friday.
School officials in Texas and Florida said they increased school security to be on the safe side.
“At this time, we do not believe the threat is credible, but as a precautionary measure, law enforcement officers are in the process of conducting random sweeps of school district buildings to ensure student safety,” the Houston Independent School District, with about 215,000 students, said in a statement.
In a move criticized by some law enforcement officials as an overreaction, officials in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school district, canceled classes for 640,000 public school students on Tuesday over a threatened attack with bombs and guns that was later deemed a hoax.
New York City officials said they received a nearly identical threat to public schools but dismissed the message and kept schools open.
A spokeswoman for Broward County Public Schools in South Florida said the district’s police department immediately communicated an emailed threat it received late Wednesday to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
“At this juncture, the threat is deemed as less than credible,” said Tracy Clark, school district spokeswoman, adding additional security had been deployed to schools as a precautionary measure. The district has more than 265,000 students.
The Dallas Independent School District, with approximately 160,000 students, also said it would keep schools open.
Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Megan Cassella in Washington, Ben Klayman in Detroit, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Barbara Liston in Orlando, and Letitia Stein in Tampa; Writing by Fiona Ortiz and Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Cynthia Osterman