'Unsubstantiated' threats, believed to be computer generated, lead Schuylkill County schools to dismiss early

Feb. 24—Three school districts in Schuylkill County received what appeared to be unsubstantiated threats Friday morning.

A supervisor with the Schuylkill County Communications Center said Friday that Mahanoy Area, North Schuylkill and Shenandoah Valley school districts reported receiving text messages containing threats.

Craig Stine, a school police officer at Mahanoy Area, said three parents received messages between 8:59 and 9:10 a.m. alleging possession of weapons, such as bombs and firearms, near school grounds.

Stine said the messages were part of a series of computer-generated cyberattacks that sent similar messages to schools Friday morning in Berks, Schuylkill and Chester counties.

"There's nothing specific in (the messages)," he said. "They are unsubstantiated."

Immediately after the messages were reported, Stine said, the Mahanoy Area School District Police Department and administrative staff dismissed students early, with all after-school activities canceled for the day.

He said the school district notified parents through a letter on its Facebook page, as well as via automated calls and emails.

Stine reported the text messages to the Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center, an agency affiliated with the Pennsylvania State Police.

Shenandoah Valley Superintendent Brian Waite said that students at Shenandoah Valley were also dismissed early after the school received a threat Friday.

"Out of an abundance of caution, the district evacuated the building to ensure the health, safety and welfare of students and staff," he said.

He added that, due to the quick response of local and state law enforcement, the district determined that the threat was not credible.

North Schuylkill, meanwhile, opted to keep its normal school operations.

According to a post on the district's Facebook page, the school districts received the threats from the same phone number, which "may have been computer-generated and originated from Ontario, Canada."

The post stated that administrators, teachers, staff, parents, students and prominent people in the community have received the messages, and encouraged anyone who receives the messages to contact the district.

"North Schuylkill will remain vigilant and has been in contact with the local and Pennsylvania State Police," the Facebook post states. "Our schedule will remain as normal for the remainder of the day."

Stine said that Tamaqua Area School District, which received similar messages in October, did not report any threats Friday.

Contact the writer: hlee@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6085