Active shooter hoax in Ontario triggers rapid police response

ONTARIO – The caller was insistent.
Shots had been fired at an Ontario home. A resident was injured. The shooter was still active and a threat.
The Oregon State Police, the Ontario Police Department and the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office all deployed to the home and surrounded it.
For 45 tense minutes they searched the area and prepared for the worst.
Then an elderly woman walked out the door of the house.
“Can I help you boys?” asked the 78-year-old woman.
There was no active shooter. No one was shot. The incident several years ago was triggered by what is known as a swatting call, and the same type of hoax played out last week at Ontario High School.
On Tuesday, Feb. 21, a caller notified the Malheur County Dispatch there was a shooter at the high school and that several students had been shot.
Police from across the county responded, soon establishing the call was a hoax. A similar ruse played out at the same time at other locations in Oregon.
Ontario High School teachers and staff responded fast to the potential threat as the school was placed in a lockdown status.
In a statement on the Ontario School District website, officials wrote, “Thankfully, due to current safety measures we have in place within the district, our exterior doors are already locked to the public, and all classroom doors are locked from the inside.
On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a rash of swatting calls also spread across Idaho.
The calls put police in a difficult position. They must respond to every emergency yet the hoaxes drain resources.

The swatting calls are not unusual, said Oregon State Police Lt. Mark Duncan.
Duncan said in the past few years there have been “four or five” such hoaxes locally.
Regardless, said Duncan, police will respond.
“The goal (of the calls) is to create public alarm. They want to instill fear in communities,” said Duncan.
The hoax calls sometimes do not involve a specific school or local home, said Duncan. Sometimes, he said, a person hauling illegal narcotics will make a swatting call to clear police a planned route.
“You send your loaded car or cars up on the freeway and it has better odds to not running into law enforcement,” said Duncan.
Technology helps those making the swatting calls, said Duncan.
“You can get phone apps for free where you call me and it shows your number being somewhere else,” said Duncan.
Duncan said the calls made in Idaho listed a Michigan number “but the voice was Middle Eastern.”
Police must take each call seriously, said Travis Johnson, Malheur County undersheriff.
“It’s really difficult because it puts us in a compromising position because we don’t know what we are going into. There are a lot of unknowns,” said Johnson.
Duncan said another aim behind the swatting calls is to gather intelligence on police procedures.
“You actually have bad actors trying to do planning so they will call in a call that is false to study the response of emergency personnel. They watch how we respond and plan and plot accordingly,” said Duncan.
Swatting calls can eat up a lot of time – half an hour at a minimum, Duncan said. But if the goal is to divert law enforcement resources away from a specific area, it doesn’t work.
“We take whatever steps that are necessary to have additional resources at the ready to immediately respond to other issues,” said Duncan.
He said the main takeaway for the public from last week’s swatting incident was rapid response from police agencies to the high school.
“I think we did a phenomenal job of reacting to the event without overreacting to the event,” said Duncan.
Cooperation, he said, was key.
“We are all on the same page on how we respond to these,” he said.
Johnson said the calls are “pretty scary.”
“It is a terrible thing what these people are doing,” said Johnson.
Duncan said there isn’t much police can do to stop the calls.
“It’s the world we live in,” he said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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