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Hoax Shooting Call at Montpelier High School was Part of Statewide “Swatting”
On the morning of a planned pep rally, Montpelier High School had a serious scare when the school went under lock down, and it wasn’t a drill. The Montpelier Police Department received a call from an out-of-state number reporting an active shooter at the high school, according to a city press release. Similar calls were made about high schools across the state at about the same time. Police responded accordingly, and learned that “this was clearly a hoax call,” reported City Manager Bill Fraser in a press release sent out about an hour after the call came in. Police responded to MHS from Montpelier, Barre City, and Barre Town, along with Vermont State Police. They swept the building twice, according to Fraser, and declared it safe and “cleared” before 10:30 a.m., Feb. 8. But parents who drove by the line of police cars and ambulances in front of the high school didn’t know that at first, nor did the students who have become accustomed to regular active shooter drills as part of their normal school life. “Everybody’s safe,” Patrol Commander Charles Winn of the Vermont State Police told a quickly growing crowd of parents at the entrance to the high school at about 10 a.m. “We have heard multiple reports all over the state. It sounds like a swatting incident.”Swatting is an internet prank/crime where someone calls 911 anonymously and reports a fake emergency, according to the Urban Dictionary. Tawnya Kristen was at her office in Berlin when she heard the initial news there had been an active shooter call at MHS, where her daughter is a freshman. “I didn’t react the way that I thought I would if this ever happened,” Kristen told The Bridge. “I just started shaking and drove here as fast as I could and kept her texting with me. She sounds like she’s doing better than I am right now which is good but really sad that this seems normalized.” Kristen added that Superintendent Libby Bonesteel was “just amazing” during the crisis. “She approached me here to let me know what was going on. It’s greatly appreciated.” Larry Caswell, also a parent of a freshman at MHS, happened to be parked in front of the Statehouse when “a line of ambulances went by” apparently heading toward the high school. He rushed over to wait outside the high school. In the hour between when police received the call and officials declared it a hoax, the atmosphere among parents was tense and tearful. MHS senior Merrick Modun, who is also a city council candidate, was driving on the highway when his phone blew up with calls from friends and family before they learned it was a hoax. “What struck me the most is the details are so unclear,” Modun said. “A message was sent out to the parents before it was sent to the students, and the students are the ones first and foremost under all that pressure.” Indeed, while students were still under lockdown, Bonesteel sent the following message to parents: “Many high schools in the state have received a call stating that shots have been fired in their school building. MHS is included. Emergency personnele [sic] have responded in full and are currently doing a sweep of the building. The school is in lock down. Officers believe, at this time, that this was a hoax across the state however are treating it quite seriously. We will be in touch when we know more. – Libby” “I saw a cop run into the school with an assault rifle and I didn’t think ‘What the Hell,’” said senior Gabriel Hall, who was in his car in the school parking lot when police arrived. “I thought ‘What happened here?’” Asked what it’s like to be part of the generation for whom active shooter drills have been embedded into their regular school lives, student Beorn Morrow-Caron replied, “I don’t see how active shooter drills are any different than nuclear bomb drills during the cold war.” “It’s different,” said a woman standing nearby. “We used to have to go under our desks.” “That’s what I mean,” Beorn said. “It’s the same. It’s not going to do anything.” As parents and family gathered in front of a Montpelier Fire Department truck outside in the cold, Sgt. Winn from the state police introduced Nick Roos, a mental health counselor newly embedded at the Berlin state police barracks. “I’m here if anybody needs to talk,” Winn said. And the pep rally? “I don’t think there’ll be much pep,” Modun said.