New York City and Los Angeles School Threats: A Tale of Two Districts

By Jackson, Molly | The Christian Science Monitor, December 16, 2015 | Go to article overview

New York City and Los Angeles School Threats: A Tale of Two Districts


Jackson, Molly, The Christian Science Monitor


When parents, teachers, and children in Los Angeles and New York City woke up Tuesday morning, they were in for very different days: different from a typical school day, with anxiety and security concerns spiking thanks to school threats received Monday night, but also different from each other, as Angelenos sat tight at home, and New York children marched off to class as usual.

School officials' sharply contrasting responses to similar threats, received via email on Monday evening, prompted immediate comparisons and, at times, criticism. Although police on both sides of the country ultimately determined the messages to be a hoax, information gaps, local worries, and word-by-word analysis guided America's two largest K-12 districts toward their separate decisions: in New York, 1.1 million kids went to class, while hours later, the families of Los Angeles' 640,000 pupils scrambled to find childcare after all of the district's 900 schools were closed for the day.

Around 1 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday -- 10 p.m. Monday on the West Coast -- school officials in both cities received similar threats via email and immediately alerted police, and then the FBI. Both messages promised large-scale terror: the emails, which appeared to come from a German server, threatened jihadi-related attacks with guns and bombs placed in lockers and backpacks, in a "very broad ... but also very specific" way that concerned L.A.'s Police Chief Charlie Beck.

The L.A. emails listed each individual school in a district covering more than 700 square miles, one factor in Superintendent Ramon Cortines's decision to close and search each one. (Schools will reopen Wednesday, with police on guard and counseling available to students.)

The emails used "very good English -- which is not a good sign," Chief Beck said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Most of the hoaxes that I see ... have syntax errors, a lot of incomplete sentences, non-sequiturs. So that concerned me."

In New York, however, one typo caught officials' attention. The message threatened that "138 comrades" would join the writer, who claimed to be a bullied high school student. "The students at every school in the New York City school district will be massacred, mercilessly. And there is nothing you can do to stop it," he or she bragged.

But "Allah," the Arabic word for God, was not capitalized, which contributed to investigators' doubts.

"It didn't add up," said Stephen Davis, deputy commissioner of the New York Police Department, noting that it is rare for genuine threats to describe potential attacks in such detail. …

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