At 1:30 p.m. Friday, L.A. County Fire Department personnel were “staging” on Centurion Way, ready to find and treat any patients connected to the call that brought them to Saugus High School — a report that four students had been shot in a bathroom on campus.
By about 2:15 p.m., Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station deputies had combed through that campus, searching building-by-building until every room was cleared, and determined there was neither a shooter nor a gunshot victim.
“Our deputies responded immediately and conducted a protective sweep, interviewed multiple parties,” SCV Sheriff’s Station spokeswoman Natalie Arriaga said Monday in a phone interview. “A report was conducted and an investigation is ongoing at this time.”
Now the SCV Sheriff’s Station is working to identify the suspect or suspects, as well as the motive for the calls, Arriaga said.
Right after the threat was determined to be a false alarm, a representative of the William S. Hart Union High School District spoke to a group of parents — some who could clearly remember the deadly campus shooting that traumatized the community more than three years earlier — to let them know the incident was a horribly conceived “prank.”
“I understand how traumatic today’s incident is for all families — and especially for those with a memory of the tragedy in 2019,” read a statement Friday from Hart District Superintendent Mike Kuhlman, referring to a shooting at Saugus that left three students dead and two others injured. He added that counseling support would be available for students this week and ongoing as needed.
“We sincerely regret the fact that it takes time for law enforcement to complete their work,” he added. “When the shock of this false alarm fades, I hope you can appreciate that the site and local law enforcement moved quickly and efficiently to respond in a way to ensure staff and student safety.”
The Hart district campus was one of at least three locations plagued by the false reports Friday, as well as the city of Industry and Lancaster, which are now being investigated by detectives at the station level, Arriaga added.
While swatting calls have been a problem for years, according to this 2008 FBI alert, a February story in a nonprofit educational publication notes that schools across the country have increasingly been a target of these incidents.
But swatting investigations are notoriously difficult to solve and to prosecute, according to experts.
One of the challenges for law enforcement, according to the EdWeek article, is that an individual can sign up for a phone number through a variety of available online services, using only an email address. Tracking such numbers creates difficulties.
Arriaga confirmed the 911 dispatch center only received one call regarding the false report and, according to radio traffic from the incident, operators were unable to contact the initial caller.
The filing of a false report of an emergency is a misdemeanor in California under penal code section 148.3, unless someone sustains an injury during the false alarm, in which case the crime could be considered a felony. No one was injured during Friday’s incident, according to officials.
“The investigation is ongoing at this time,” Arriaga said Monday, noting the other stations impacted by the crimes would conduct their own interviews and then determine the best course for their investigation. “We have to coordinate with them to see if they have any other different intel than we have.”