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When a “Prank” Goes Too Far: False School Shooting Calls Continue to Increase in the United States

On Wednesday, April 12, Illinois authorities responded to several calls about school shootings from several different schools across the state, only for those calls to turn out to be false. One of the targeted schools, Rockford East High School, canceled their classes and rescheduled their SATs for Thursday of that same week.


     The phenomenon, called “Swatting”, is the act of purposefully making a false report of a serious emergency to the police about a supposed threat from a person or group who the caller intends to intimidate. The police will send a SWAT team to the reported person’s home (or, in Illinois’ case, multiple public high schools), scaring the caller’s intended target or targets. More information about swatting can be found in the article, What is swatting? Unleashing armed police against your enemies | CSO Online


     The exact number of swatting calls in the United States is uncertain, but the article, Swatting: Here's what you need to know, states that “[...] as of 2013, an FBI agent guessed there were hundreds.” 


     Swatting has been occurring since the 1970s, when police responded to calls reporting, among other things, false bomb threats in airports. It has since evolved to include multiple locations such as individuals’ homes. This is due, in part, to the advent of the internet which has increased ease of access to personal information such as IP addresses.     


     According to the aforementioned article, swatting has also been a popular practice among “[...] the internet savvy, such as members of online-messaging boards, or [...] gamers.” Here, “gamers” is used to refer to those who play online video games. Online, gamers who perform such actions are often referred to as “trolls” whose motives are supposedly to get a rise out of unsuspecting people. 


     Motives for swatting vary, ranging from a mistaken belief that the act is a “harmless prank” to the swatter getting revenge against a perceived slight allegedly made by the person they are swatting. The article, Several ‘Prank' Calls Reported About Shootings at Illinois Schools, Sparking Police Response, confirmed that pranking was the motive for the April 12 calls. 


     The identity of the April 12 caller is unknown, with some speculating it to be one person or multiple people who may be behind them. But, as of now, there is no way to tell the caller’s true identity since no one has taken credit for the calls. According to the article, Local Illinois schools plagued by hoax school shooting calls Wednesday, the calls may originate from outside the United States. 


     The 2022 article, False calls about active school shooters are rising. They follow an odd pattern, speculated that they may be coming from “[...] Africa or, specifically, Ethiopia.” Although the article was made last year, there may still be some truth to it. Audio obtained from the caller indicates they are an adult man despite their claim that they are a student. 


     The previously mentioned article states that, “Drew Evans, superintendent at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said he has also heard audio of hoax calls [...]”. Evans has been quoted as saying, "There was an accent here [in the calls] and it appeared to be a similar person or the same person in all the calls either heard or reported in to us[.]" The calls may have come from “[...] internet-based phone numbers, which either originated in or were routed through foreign countries through a VPN connection.” 


     According to What is a VPN? | Virtual Private Networks Explained | Norton, VPN, which stands for Virtual Private Network, “[...] gives you online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. VPNs mask your internet protocol (IP) address so your online actions are virtually untraceable. Most important[ly], VPN services establish secure and encrypted connections to provide greater privacy than even a secured Wi-Fi hotspot.” 

     One thing that can be agreed on is that the false school-shooter calls are not random, isolated occurrences; they are part of a coordinated plan by one group or one person. These calls against public schools have been occurring since 2022 and have only been increasing in frequency. These calls are not just limited to Illinois; they have also occurred all across the country. 


     Needless to say, swatting is dangerous. It can wreak havoc on unsuspecting people; waste police officers’ valuable time and resources that could be spent on finding and preventing actual threats; and, in one 2017 case when police swatted a man in Wichita, Kansas, it can end in death. Hopefully, the culprits behind the April 12 swatting calls are caught and brought to justice. 

     Edited by: Mary May


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