fbpx

Gun and bomb attack threat closes Los Angeles schools in likely hoax

Los Angeles shut more than 1,000 public schools on Tuesday over a threatened attack with bombs and assault rifles, sending hundreds of thousands of students home as city leaders were criticized for over reacting to what federal officials later said was likely a hoax.
[additional-authors]
December 15, 2015

Los Angeles shut more than 1,000 public schools on Tuesday over a threatened attack with bombs and assault rifles, sending hundreds of thousands of students home as city leaders were criticized for over reacting to what federal officials later said was likely a hoax.

The emailed threat, which authorities said was “routed through Germany” but likely more local in origin, came less than two weeks after a married couple inspired by Islamic State killed 14 people and wounded 22 others at a county office building in San Bernardino, just 60 miles (100 km) away.

“Based on past circumstance, I could not take the chance,” Los Angeles School Superintendent Ramon Cortines said at a news conference.

Federal officials, who asked not to be identified, echoed an assessment by New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton that the decision in Los Angeles was an “over reaction” and that New York had received an almost identical threat that was quickly deemed not credible. 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he backed the decision and Police Chief Charlie Beck said it should not be second-guessed because the threat was “very specific to Los Angeles Unified School District campuses.”

Beck said the email mentioned assault rifles and machine pistols and implied the use of explosives. 

But the unprecedented move at the second-largest public school system in the United States left some 643,000 students and their families scrambling to cope and drew criticism.

A law enforcement source told Reuters that Los Angeles authorities ordered the closure to allow a full search of public school facilities without consulting with the FBI, which typically takes the lead on investigations into potential terrorism.. Some public schools in the city remained open as did most private schools.

“L.A. is a huge school system,” said Bratton, who had previously served as police chief in Los Angeles. “To disrupt the daily schedules of half a million school children, their parents, day care, buses based on an anonymous email, without consultation, if in fact, consultation did not occur with law enforcement authorities, I think it was a significant over reaction.”

Garcetti denied that assertion, saying his city had contacted federal law enforcement officials. 

Congressman Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California, told the New York Times that the person who sent the email claimed to be a devout Muslim prepared to launch an attack using bombs, nerve gas and rifles with “32 jihadist friends” because he had been bullied at a Los Angeles high school.

Sherman told the paper that the number of attackers and claim to have nerve gas cast doubts on the credibility of the email, as did the writer consistently failing to capitalize the word “Allah.” 

“While we continue to gather information about the threat made against the Los Angeles and New York School Departments, the preliminary assessment is that it was a hoax or something designed to disrupt school districts in large cities,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives intelligence committee, said in a written statement.

Cortines, in defending his decision to take such a dramatic step, said the threat stood out from most that the district received in its seriousness and scope, referencing multiple campuses and mentioning backpacks and other packages. 

“It is very easy for people to jump to conclusions and I have been around long enough to know that usually what people think in the first few hours is not what plays out in later hours,” said the mayor, Garcetti. “But decisions have to be made in a matter of minutes.”

Police Chief Beck said it was “irresponsible” to criticize the decision in the aftermath of the Dec. 2 attack on a regional center in San Bernardino, California, east of Los Angeles. 

That massacre and other mass shootings have pushed the issues of militant Islamism and gun violence to the forefront of the U.S. presidential campaign.

A school district spokeswoman said that it had asked for 13 enforcement agencies to help search some 1,000 campuses, including 187 charter schools.

Professor Brian Levin, an expert on counter-terrorism and hate crimes at Cal State University San Bernardino, remarked on what a massive undertaking it would be to search schools.

“God bless 'em, but I couldn't do it. Who knows? Maybe they can. It involves looking in classrooms, closets, lockers – if you can get bomb-sniffing dogs in there, doing that – vehicles and surrounding perimeter areas,” Levin said.

“If it were me, if I were chief, I'd want more time. But maybe the political pressures don't allow for that,” he said.

Some parents used social media to vent frustration at having learned about the closures from the news media, rather than directly from the schools.

Ronna Bronstein, who has two sons in grade school, said she was trying to find out more while shielding her younger child from the news.

“I don't want him to be frightened to go back to school tomorrow,” she said.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

Beauty Without Borders

I was amused by this scene of an elderly, ultra-Orthodox couple enjoying a coffee while a sensual French song came on. Do they have any idea what this song is about? I wondered.

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.