Rombout Threat Creates Chaos

Call to Beacon police believed to be ‘swatting’ 

Beth Janelle said that, at first, “it felt like such a normal morning.” 

The mother of two had dropped off her 7-year-old daughter at Sargent Elementary School on Feb. 24 for a before-school math club. But as Janelle pulled out of the Sargent parking lot around 7:55 a.m., “all of the sudden I’m getting texts from my son telling me cops are in his school with big guns.”

Janelle’s 13-year-old, an eighth-grader at Rombout Middle School, had taken the bus that morning. Upon arrival, he would tell his mother, Beacon police officers were already on campus, responding to a threat they had received minutes earlier. 

Police Chief Sands Frost said a call came into the Beacon Police Department at 7:46 a.m. He could not discuss details of the investigation, which is being assisted by the FBI’s Hudson Valley Safe Streets Task Force, but said that the caller made a “direct threat” to the middle school. 

Officers responded immediately, ushering students and teachers into classrooms. Frost said the officers were quickly able to determine that Rombout was safe; from there, Beacon and Fishkill police went to the other five schools in the district (Glenham Elementary is in Fishkill) and confirmed that each was also safe. 

The initial investigation revealed that the threat was consistent with other false warnings that have been called in to schools and other institutions around the country, police said. However, officers were stationed at each of the schools for the remainder of the day. 

Police said the threat was likely an example of “swatting” — a tactic in which someone reports a false crime or emergency to evoke an aggressive response from law enforcement to a target’s residence or workplace. Threats have increasingly been directed at schools, and police have to take them seriously, Frost said.

Last year, Wired documented more than 90 false reports of active shooters at U.S. schools made during the second half of September and, around the same time, National Public Radio found at least 113 hoax calls to schools in 19 states over a three-week period. Because of the surge in swatting of schools, the National Association of School Resource Officers and an organization called Safe and Sound Schools in September published guidance for its members and administrators on how to respond. 

The group noted that rapid-response by police creates its own risks, and that the anxiety it creates can be overwhelming, citing parents in San Antonio who in September swarmed a high school there, fighting with officers, because of a swatting call that claimed a shooter was inside.

The ploy, which is believed to have originated in the online gaming community, in 2017 led to the fatal police shooting of a 28-year-old Wichita, Kansas, man after a call led officers to his home. 

Frost said the call to police on Friday came from outside of the region. Wherever it came from, word spread quickly, and with it, fear and confusion. 

A lengthy thread emerged on Facebook, with parents who were communicating with their children posting what little information they had. Asma Siddiqui, the director of the private Hudson Hills Academy in Beacon, said she began to get emails and calls from families asking if they should be concerned. 

Janelle said her son texted her that morning that neither teachers nor students knew what was happening. At one point, the boy thought he heard a bang and feared there might be a shooter inside the building, Janelle said, her voice breaking. 

At 8:18 a.m., Superintendent Matt Landahl sent district families the first of two emails updating the situation. Although the threat appeared false, the district would operate for the rest of the day in “lockout” mode, he said, which meant students were safe in their classes and could move from one classroom to another during the day but could not leave the building.

Janelle went to Rombout to pick up her son at 9:30 a.m. She noted “a huge police presence” and said it looked like “half the school” was getting picked up. Then she returned to Sargent to pick up her daughter, as well. 

“The kids were just really scared. Really scared,” she said. When Janelle asked her son if he felt safe at school, the boy replied, “I want to feel safe, but I don’t.” 

Counselors were available to speak with students this week, and the district also circulated a Google form for Rombout students to sign up privately, Landahl said. He said administrators will meet with Altaris, a security firm the district hired in 2018, to discuss the emergency response, including how to keep parents informed as quickly as possible.

The superintendent also said that a threat at Rombout in January that police determined to be unsubstantiated was unrelated. 

Janelle said on Wednesday that the situation led her family to designate a safe meeting place for emergencies. When picking up her children on the day of the threat, she said she worried she might be overreacting, but “with the world we’re living in, I don’t think there’s such a thing as being too alarmist.”

One thought on “Rombout Threat Creates Chaos

  1. Beacon continues to have the finest police department in the Hudson Valley, and as New York City continues to handcuff their officers, the future for recruiting top officers is very bright.

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