EMERYVILLE (CBS SF) – An international online game allowing players to score points by leveling false threats at schools, triggering evacuations and closures, is targeting schools in the Bay Area, police said Monday.
Emeryville police Chief Jennifer Tejada said in a statement that the Emery Unified School District decided to close schools after being targeted by one of the threats leveled against students, administrators and teachers on Sunday night.
Tejada said an initial investigation of the threat indicates it is a hoax generated out of a dare within an overseas online gaming community to see who could generate the most school evacuations in the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
A group that calls itself the Apophis squad, supposedly based in Switzerland, claimed responsibility for the threats in both the U.K. and the U.S. on Twitter. The first tweet from the account was dated March 19th of this year, the same day 400 schools in the U.K. were shut down due to bomb threats.
Today the group tweeted “Our emails are hitting the media” and referenced a news story about school threats.
It was supposed to be the first day back from spring break for students at Emery High School in Emeryville. But instead police guarded the perimeter of a mostly empty building after parents were alerted via robocall that classes were canceled Monday.
“It’s the times we’re living in,” said parent Samantha Gans. “It’s scary. We need to wake up and be prepared.”
Emery High students will be back tomorrow and can expect police to again be at the campus even though the threat was considered baseless. Tejada said police will leave officers in place to assist with the reopening of schools on Tuesday morning.
“We are monitoring social media and are seeing schools in Alameda County and others around the country reporting similar threats,” Tejada said.
Emeryville police Capt. Oliver Collins said the threats have been forwarded to the FBI. Collins said it appears that many California schools received similar threats.
In Redlands, school officials took to Twitter to tell parents their schools had also been targeted.
“Late Sunday evening, the Redlands Police Department was contacted by a representative of the Redlands Unified School District who reported receiving a vague email threat … The message in the email implied the sender was upset and threatened to blow up a school and shoot students.”
The Redlands police and FBI determined the threat to be a hoax, but security was increased at local schools.
Meanwhile in San Diego, school officials told the San Diego Tribune that its districts were on a heightened alert Monday. The newspaper said threat hoaxes had been made against schools in at least 46 states, including at least five school districts in San Diego County.
Former FBI agent and KPIX 5 security analyst Jeff Harp says threats like this are not just an expensive waste of police resources, they can put the community in a vulnerable position. “Anytime you have a prank that takes law enforcement away from where they’re supposed to be, it can be a very dangerous thing,” said Harp.
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