School lockouts and police mobilization
By Kevin E. Foley
Putnam County Sheriff Donald B. Smith has confirmed that the incident this morning that closed both Haldane and Garrison schools, blocked off a section of Route 9D and had local police forces on high alert in multiple locations with special weapons, was in fact a hoax, a swatting hoax to be exact.
The incident, according to the sheriff, is the latest in a number of similar hoaxes that have occurred nationally that have come to be called “swatting” cases, namely false reports of hostage and other violent situations that are intended to call for a response from the special weapons and tactics (SWAT) police teams.
The call came into the sheriff’s office shortly after 10 a.m. reporting that a woman and her son were being held hostage at gunpoint in a home in the Manitou section of Garrison, below Route 9D along the Hudson River.
Law enforcement officers, including sheriff’s deputies, state police and Cold Spring police closed 9D for about two hours while they investigated the situation that turned out to be fictitious.
“A false report like this one goes way beyond a prank—it is the product of a sick, twisted and criminal mind,” said Smith. “Falsely reporting an emergency causes serious disruptions in our community and puts many innocent persons at risk as officers are responding rapidly to the call.”
The sheriff said an investigation is underway to determine the hoax perpetrator.
Alerted to the situation, Haldane and Garrison school officials initiated precautionary safety measures.
At approximately 10:30 a.m., word started reaching Haldane parents that the school was in what was first referred to as a “lockdown” and then refined to “lockout” situation.
The usual frenzy of conjecture resulted, with Facebook and other social media posts speculating about everything from a gun-related incident, to a domestic dispute nowhere near the school grounds, to a “swatting.”
Texts from students inside the Haldane complex confirmed that there was a lockout (meaning students could continue with their activities within the building, but no one is allowed to enter or leave the building) but that they had no idea why it was occurring. One high school student reported that in her classroom, all students were seated on the floor, in the corner near desks, and that after an initial period of nervousness, there was little anxiety.
At 11:30 a.m. Haldane Superintendent Diana Bowers utilized the Haldane message system, which sends messages out via phone calls as well as via text to confirm the situation and assure the community that the students were safe and there would be further updates.
During the ensuing hours, students continued to text parents but were unable to shed any light on the situation beyond the all-important fact that they were all fine.