TOLEDO, Ohio — Last Wednesday was a busy day for law enforcement agencies across northern Ohio.
In the morning, a male with a heavy foreign accent told a Lucas County dispatcher that six students at Start High School had been shot by a Hispanic gunman wearing a black jacket and black pants and carrying a long gun, likely an AK-47.
“He came to the classroom and shot the six students – Start High School – when I was teaching in the classroom. He shot at me but missed. The caller identified himself as a chemistry teacher named Mike Green.
At 9:53 a.m., dispatch in Hancock County received a call from a male who also had a heavy accent. He told the dispatcher that a Spanish male had shot students in a Liberty-Benton classroom in which he was teaching.
“There is an active shooter at Liberty-Benton High School. Six students have been shot at Liberty-Benton High School.”
Later, a man who identified himself as Mike Green called Cleveland dispatch to report a mass shooting at a local high school. He again described the gunman as Hispanic, wearing black pants and black jacket.
When asked about the incidents, the Cleveland office of the FBI provided the following statement: “The Cleveland FBI is aware of the swatting incidents in Northern Ohio. The FBI takes swatting very seriously because it puts innocent people at risk. While we have no information to indicate a specific and credible threat, we will continue to work with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to gather, share, and act upon threat information as it comes to our attention.”
Last week’s incidents are just the latest calls to 911 centers across the country. NPR recently reported that at least 182 schools have been targeted in more than 30 states. Ohio has seen calls in northwest Ohio, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, and Akron.
The calls in Ohio go back to September, but calls in other states go back as far as December. In the summer, there were several calls made about universities, each saying a bomb was on campus.
11 Investigates has obtained copies of six calls related to high schools – two from Toledo and one each from Hancock, Allen, Cuyahoga, and Summit counties. Law enforcement has not said definitively that the same caller is making the reports, but in the six that we listened to, the accent was similar and the script was familiar. All described a white or Hispanic male, AK-47, black or grey shirt, black pants, and in most cases, six students were shot – while the caller narrowly missed being shot. In multiple calls, the man identifies himself as Mike Green.
NPR has compiled a list of nationwide incidents and has linked 80 of them to an Ethiopian phone company. Wired Magazine traced several calls to a TextNow account and said that account has now been closed.
Timothy Dimoff, who has been in law enforcement and a security consultant for more than 40 years, said despite being hoaxes, the incidents are disruptive and dangerous.
“These incidents are all hands on deck. All available police officers assist with the safety forces. They're responding and they're responding at a very high alert level. Anybody and everybody they confront as soon as they enter that property is basically under suspicion,” Dimoff said.
And the environment is ripe for an accident, he added.
“It could be something as simple as a police approaching someone outside the school and saying, ‘hey, stop’ and that person reaches in their pocket. You know, what does that mean to an officer who's responding to this type of call?”
Dimoff is founder and president of SACS Consulting and Investigative Services in Akron. Besides active shooter situations and police response, his firm also deals with many other security issues, including cyber crimes.
He said the TextNow app is a convenient app that would allow people overseas to communicate by phone or laptop with people in the United States. He said the accounts are traceable and can be shut down, but a crafty user could disguise his location.
He also said it would be fairly simple for a caller to obtain information about schools across the country.
If you do a Google search for high schools in five different states, and put a city in, you could get a list of high schools,” Dimoff said. “You could get their address. You could look on their website, learn about their school. You could actually use Google Earth, or many times the school has photos of their buildings, and you can pretty well act like you're there.”
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