With additional reporting by The Reporter staff.
The threatening phone call that caused six Essex Jct. schools to go on lockdown Wednesday was the result of a so-called “swatting” incident, police said Thursday.
Essex police Chief Brad LaRose said the incident involved a male caller reporting a fictitious threat to create a large law enforcement response.
The call in question came in just before 10 a.m. Wednesday. The caller said he intended to harm Essex High School students with weapons and explosives. As of Friday afternoon, the caller was still not identified.
“[Swatting] is a bogus threat usually resolving around tactical response, and it’s just basically set to be a nuisance to the community and the resources that have to be involved,” Essex Lt. Kenneth Beaulieu said Thursday.
Friday morning, Essex police said they’re teaming with the Federal Bureau of Investigations on the case, despite the threat’s severity being greatly diminished. The update said similar incidents – where the threat was initially deemed credible but then proven a hoax – have occurred recently in Indian, Colorado and California.
Wednesday, police performed exterior and interior searches of the campus and found no weapons, explosive packages or suspects, Essex police Cpt. George Murtie said.
The Vermont State Police Bomb Squad was also on scene, and at least eight other law enforcement entities responded, including U.S. Marshals and agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, police said.
The extensive searches and a closer analysis of the call and the caller’s demeanor determined the threat lacked validity, which coincides with national trends of swatting incidents, Beaulieu said.
Murtie said Wednesday the caller used many specifics – more elaborate than the typical bomb threat – leading police to treat it legitimately.
Police remained in frequent contact with the male early Wednesday afternoon. In a news release sent at 9 p.m. Wednesday, LaRose said the caller eventually hung up on police, and efforts to re-engage contact were unsuccessful.
Police interviewed a student Tuesday “who was determined not to be a suspect or involved in any way,” the news release said.
Murtie said once identified, the caller could face a variety of criminal charges.
Although police have determined the incident was swatting, Beaulieu said it does not change the investigation or the departments’ collaboration yesterday. The case remains as high priority, EPD said, as they continue to search for the person responsible.
The situation was inconvenient and costly, Beaulieu said, but the agencies involved tested their tactics and techniques.
“It’s a lot easier to assume it’s the real thing and scale back as opposed to going in the other direction,” Beaulieu said. “If nothing else, we can take lessons learned from this and apply them to future incidents.”
As police continue the investigation, their presence at the school will also remain, he added, ensuring students are comfortable and can transition back to their normal routines.