SANFORD, Maine — Dispatch centers in 10 communities throughout Maine received what authorities are calling “hoax-style” phone calls Tuesday morning alerting them, falsely, to active shooters inside local schools, according to Michael Sauschuck, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Public Safety.
Sanford High School was the first hoax victim, with a call that came into local dispatch at 8:20 a.m.
“Those phone calls — those initial complaints, those threats — were detailed in nature and they highlighted supposed active-shooter scenarios in our schools, right here in the state of Maine,” Sauschuck said during a press conference at the Sanford High School campus.
As of early Tuesday afternoon, authorities did not have a suspect, but Sauschuck said all 10 calls came from the same phone number.
The calls came in a cluster in southern Maine, but also as far north as Bangor, Sauschuck added.
Why there were reports of victims and students injured on social media
Police cruisers, fire engines and ambulances rushed to the locked-down Sanford High School with sirens blaring at approximately 8:20 a.m.
Sanford police Lt. Matthew Gagne said the phony caller identified themselves as a teacher, and said they were locked in the staff room. The caller reported many false details, stating five were injured and there was an active shooter dressed in black coat and black pants with a long rifle on the first floor of the high school.
Gagne said police believe the caller was impersonating a teacher.
The Sanford Strategic Response Team responded to the high school and conducted a search of the building. The search of the school — a two-story, 350,000-square-foot facility with multiple wings of classrooms that opened in 2018 — lasted about an hour, with first responders determining by 9:15 a.m. that no violence had occurred.
What is 'swatting':False active shooter calls clog law enforcement, terrify schools
All high school students were evacuated from the school and taken to the Memorial Gym, about three miles north on Main Street, according to Gagne. Buses from neighboring school districts were parked in a row in the Sanford Plaza parking lot on Main Street, on call to pick up students who attend Sanford Regional Technical Center.
Gagne called the morning “extremely stressful and traumatic” for everyone — an occurrence with effects that “will be felt for a long time.”
Sanford High hoax report of shooting: Police scanner audio
This is part of the original audio from the police scanner as Sanford, Maine, police and emergency crews responded to an active shooter threat at the high school. The call was a hoax. Here is the first 4 minutes of the response up until the police dispatch center announces they have lost contact with the caller. You can hear the police looking for a specific suspect and students falsely reported as being shot.
What to expect from criminal investigation on hoax report
Gagne said authorities will do all they can to apprehend the individual or individuals responsible for a hoax that led people to believe there was an active shooter.
“We’re going to dump as many resources into finding this person, that’s for sure,” Gagne told reporters during a press conference on Alumni Boulevard, the road that leads to the high school.
The FBI and multiple other agencies could become involved in the investigation, Gagne said.
The suspect potentially faces federal charges, Sauschuck said. He added that the investigation is going to take a while, and that the public should not expect a press conference and a “booking photo” of a suspect later this afternoon.
“We’re comfortable with that,” Sauschuck said. “We know there’s no active threat in the state of Maine, as of right now. We’re very, very confident of that.”
Sauschuck said he knew parents and the community in general were “concerned, and rightfully so.”
“They just didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “Not only was this a criminal scenario, but these are callous and inhumane acts against our kids, against our residents, against our parents … We are all in on a criminal investigation.”
School, Maine officials praise police, fire response
Sauschuck praised the first-responders who rushed to Sanford High School and the other schools to secure premises and ensure the safety of everyone.
“What you witnessed here this morning was a Maine-style response to an event of this nature,” Sauschuck said. “Everybody snapped to immediate reaction … They followed their training and, more importantly, they followed their hearts.”
From police and fire officials to hospitals and LifeFlight, there were a lot of resources prepared to act on Tuesday, Sauschuck added.
Sanford Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson thanked first-responders and said he was proud too.“Quite the day for us here in Sanford,” Nelson said. “I’m incredibly proud of our students and our staff and their response.”
Nelson said Sanford’s schools routinely practice shooter drills for a reason.
“Today, we got real practice,” he said. “We’ve worked hard. Safety is one of our top priorities.”
Nelson said the high school went into lockdown once the threat was known. Once more information was known, all students moved into the SHS gymnasium. Then they were taken by bus to the Memorial Gym – the “reunification site,” Nelson called it – about three miles north.
Support offered for Sanford students as school will remain closed
Nelson said students and staff at Sanford High School will not have class Wednesday, Nov. 16. However, the school will be open for students to pick up items and school counselors will be available from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for all SHS students.
For those students interested, transportation to the school will be provided on a two-hour delay schedule with lunch provided. The SRTC Pre-K will not be in session on Wednesday.
“Our people have been through a lot today,” he said. “We want to make sure that, first of all, we’re all okay.”
“I don’t wish this on anyone,” Nelson said. “At the same time, it’s gratifying to know that we’re going to be able to move forward and also be in a situation where there wasn’t a tragedy.”
Classes at Sanford High School and Sanford Regional Technical Center will resume Thursday, Nov. 17. School officials said there will be an increased police presence at the schools.
Hospital started preparing in case of mass casualties that proved false
David Dagenais, senior director of emergency management for Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, New Hampshire, said the hospital staff began preparations to receive mass casualty patients early Tuesday morning, once they heard the possibility of an active shooter in Sanford.
Dagenais, who has 30 years of experience in emergency management, said the proccess of how the hospital learns about potential disasters, and how quickly it happens, has changed over the years.
“We heard from staff, people who are parents of kids in the school district, because they received notifications,” Dagenais said. “They were going to their departments asking to leave. Then we began seeing it on Facebook and other social media.”
Dagenais said the hospital went into verification mode and began to prepare in case it was true.
“At that point, we had no reason to believe it wasn’t true,” he said. “The emergency department began looking at their staffing, their supplies, and available beds. We had no idea if we would get one patient, or more.
"The same preparations are done for other incidents, like a major car accident,” said Dagenais.
When it turned out to be a hoax, Dagenais said they all breathed a sigh of relief.
“We do not look at it as a disruption to our schedules,” he said. “We always need to be prepared. Plus, it is a chance for us to evaluate our emergency response systems. I think we did very well.”
York Hospital President & CEO Patrick Taylor said his team had started to prepare, too.
“Before Sanford School officials and the Sanford Police reported that there was no credible report of an active shooter at Sanford High School, York Hospital’s executive team met to be briefed on the incident; prepared to set up an incident command center; contacted our Sanford care location to secure their safety, along with our patients on site; and placed our ER team, located on the York Hospital main campus on high alert, as we awaited further information,” Taylor said in a prepared statement.
State police confirm reports of active shooters at schools a hoax
SANFORD, Maine — Police confirmed reports of an active shooter incident at Sanford High School and schools around the state Tuesday morning are a hoax.
A heavy police presence responded to the local high school in Sanford Tuesday morning.
Shannon Moss, public information officer for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said they're aware of multiple active shooter threats that have been made at schools throughout the state.
"Maine State Police have been assisting local law enforcement agencies with these initial investigations," Moss said. "At this time these reports are believed to be a hoax. The Maine Information Analysis Center (MIAC) is heavily involved in coordinating these investigations."
The Sanford School Department sent a message to parents Tuesday morning saying the active shooter threat is not believed to be credible.
School districts around York County, Maine, send students to the regional technical center at Sanford. Officials at those schools, including Kittery, Marshood and others, were communicating Tuesday about the hoax to students as well.
Hoax reports around Maine
Portland police said they responded to Portland High School Tuesday after receiving a 911 call at 8:31 a.m. reporting an active shooter. The school went into lockdown and police conducted a precautionary search and cleared the building, confirming there was no threat.
False reports of school shooters have been national problem
Reports of school shootings that proved to be false occurred at schools across Ohio in September, according to reporting by the Cincinnati Enquirer. The practice of making the false reports is commonly called swatting.
Earlier this school year: Several Ohio school hoax active shooter reports seem to be made by same caller
The false reports in Ohio were similiar and specific, the Enquirer reported. In multiple 911 calls, a man identifying himself as James Park falsely reported a gunman had opened fire and 10 students are wounded. The same calls came in for multiple schools. Other false reports have occurred in Florida, among other states.
Staff reporters Shawn Sullivan, Max Sullivan and Karen Dandurant contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Sanford Maine and other school shooting calls a hoax: What to know