URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) – “Don’t engage in this type of behavior. You’re only jeopardizing your future,” Illinois Secretary of State Press Secretary Henry Haupt said.
He’s sending a message to those calling in hoax shooting threats to schools across central Illinois. Law enforcement officials are asking you to take them seriously, because they have to.
Monday alone, police investigated threats to four different schools in three different districts. In Urbana, students were sent home after someone called the office threatening to kill them.
We still don’t have all the answers. But the Illinois Secretary of State Police was one of the agencies who helped, and it’s not the first school they’ve had to sweep for bombs lately.
“Unfortunately, there has been a proliferation of these threats,” Haupt said.
Threats the Urbana Police Department called “terroristic.” The Secretary of State Police say they’ve been popping up at schools across central Illinois. In this case, an unknown caller said he was going to shoot and kill Urbana High School students, and mentioned pipe bombs.
“Being a parent, the first thing is just a gut-wrenching feeling in your stomach,” Molly Hart said.
Classes were cancelled at Urbana Middle and High Schools while the Secretary of State Police Bomb Squad helped investigate the calls. Haupt said similar threats often turn out to be hoaxes.
“But they’re dangerous for a number of reasons,” he said.
Namely, wasting the time and resources of several law enforcement agencies.
“It’s always possible there could have been an actual threat somewhere that our technicians should be focused on, and not a hoax at a high school,” Haupt said.
While it’s not clear yet whether a teenager called in the threats to Urbana, Haupt said that age group is often behind it.
“It’s going to make everything you do in the future a little more difficult. Why would anyone do that for themselves?” he said.
Young culprits could face felonies, expulsion and even trouble getting a job down the line. He said police dealt with a string of copycat crimes several years ago, likely sparked by students hearing about threats at another school.
“It’s as simple as that. So they picked up the phone or they sent a text message or put on social media,” Haupt said.
It’s a choice that causes parents like Molly Hart to panic, and gives anxiety attacks to kids like hers. Her son goes to Urbana High School, and she didn’t know where he was when the lockdown was announced.
“I start calling his phone to find out and I can hear it ringing in his bedroom. It’s like – the one day he forgets his phone is today,” Hart said.
Luckily, families met at a reunification site, and police eventually determined the coast was clear. But some are still unsettled.
“You hear of school shootings all the time and you think, ‘not here, not us.’ It makes you realize – it could be us,” Hart said.
We reached out to the Champaign School District. They operated on a regular schedule Monday, but the chief communications officer said they received messages from families and students concerning possible social media threats. She didn’t provide any further detail on the threats, or whether a specific school was targeted.
Also Monday – Rochester Intermediate School received bomb threats, but school officials say no students were in danger. In Georgetown, police continued to investigate a threat that came Sunday from a juvenile from out of state. Those schools joined a list of others who’ve gotten threats over the past few weeks, including Pana, Taylorville and North Mac High School.