FBI Boston Warns Public of Legal Consequences of Making Hoax Threats to Schools

BOSTON – In the wake of horrific school shootings across the country, such as the May shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas that left ten people dead, or the February shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead, hoax threats have also been on the rise.

Locally, the most recent hoax threat of an active school shooter happened at Bourne Middle School in early October, and the FBI Boston Division is now actively warning the public of the consequences that come with making false threats to commit violence in public places.  

FBI Boston launched a public awareness campaign on Tuesday in an effort to educate the public about the consequences of making these hoax threats, and released the following statement:  

The FBI Boston Division is launching a public awareness campaign to educate the public about the consequences of making hoax threats of violence to schools, events, and other public places and reminds everyone that any threat is taken with the utmost seriousness and will be quickly and thoroughly addressed by law enforcement. Hoax threats are not a joke; they are a crime.

In the aftermath of tragic shootings such as the ones at Santa Fe High School in Texas and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the FBI and law enforcement agencies around the country often see an increase in threats made to schools, events, and other public buildings.

“You might be angry, you may be joking, or looking for a way to be heard, or seek revenge, but you need to stop and think before you post because making any threat, even a hoax, has consequences. It drains critical law enforcement resources, diverts first responders away from actual emergencies and is an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers,” said Harold H. Shaw, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division, which covers all of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners spend countless hours following up on the tips we receive, all in an effort to determine their credibility and take steps to mitigate any risk to the public. There is no alternative—there is too much at stake—and we’re always concerned that the subject behind the threat intends to follow through with their actions,” added Shaw.

In the last five years, the number of hoax threats made against schools and other public places through various social media platforms here in the Boston Division have tripled. “Based on our estimates, we’re receiving reports of at least two threats a day that turn out to be hoaxes,” added Shaw.

When an investigation concludes a false or hoax threat has been made to a school, events, or another public place, state or federal charges could be levied. A federal charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Public assistance is crucial to our efforts to curb these hoax threats. We ask that the public continue to contact law enforcement to report any potential threats or suspicious activity. If there is any reason to believe the safety of others is at risk, we ask that the public immediately reach out to their local police department by calling 911.

Early intervention can prevent a situation from escalating by identifying, assessing, and managing the threat. Remember, if you see something, say something. Hoax threats are not a joke, so think before you post.

A limited amount of posters are available for distribution to area schools upon request.

What Should You Do to Help?

Don’t ever post or send any hoax threats…period.

If you are a target of an online threat, alert your local law enforcement immediately.

If you see a threat of violence posted on social media, immediately contact local law enforcement or your local FBI office.

Notify authorities, but don’t share, forward, or delete the threat until law enforcement has had a chance to investigate—this can spread misinformation and cause panic.

Just after 11:00 a.m. on October 3, Bourne Police received a call from an employee at Bourne Middle School advising that they received a call from someone claiming to be an active shooter inside the school. Officers immediately responded and were able to quickly determine the call was fake and no students were in danger. The school was placed on lockdown.

The incident came just one day after vandalism in a school bathroom which included a threat to the school was determined to not be credible.

By TIM DUNN, CapeCod.com News Center

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