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Here's how hoax threat calls are investigated

Law enforcement agencies responded to more than a dozen fake threats to schools and districts across Colorado on Wednesday.

COLORADO, USA — The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is working with local law enforcement to help track down the person behind the "swatting" threats to schools on Wednesday. 

More than a dozen schools across Colorado were the target of phone calls threatening shootings – all of them were a hoax. 

"Was there caller ID? Did it come over the internet, through email?" said Jennifer Doebler, a former analyst with the FBI and now co-founder of Leader193 in Carbondale, Colorado.

These are some of the questions federal agents may be asking dispatchers and local law enforcement as they investigate the fake threats. Doebler would know as a former analyst who had access to swatting cases. 

Swatting is when someone makes a false call to law enforcement, claiming an emergency situation and providing a real address for officers to respond to. 

"The clues it would give me is it's not targeted, it's random," she said. 

She's talking about the list of schools that received threats of a shooting. 9NEWS found several of the districts were called in alphabetical order: 

  • Alamosa received a call at 8:24 a.m.
  • Aspen - 8:25 a.m.
  • Aurora - 8:30 a.m.
  • Boulder - 8:33 a.m.
  • Brighton - 8:41 a.m.
  • Durango - 9:16 a.m.
  • Englewood - 9:19 a.m.
  • Estes Park - 9:23 a.m.
  • Fort Morgan - 9:38 a.m.
  • Grand Junction - 10:05 a.m.
  • Littleton - 1:45 p.m.

"That would tell me it's possible this subject could be anywhere in the world and not necessarily have direct knowledge of places he or she is threatening," said Doebler.

John McDonald, the former director of security for Jeffco Public Schools, said he's worked with police to find people behind these calls several times. 

"They will build that system into a phone tree and their protocol is the same call to different schools in alphabetical order," he said. "Sometimes it takes a long time. Two to three months is not unusual and it's frustrating because everybody wants to know who did this."

The Boulder Police Department said the call threatening Boulder High School was anonymous. A man said he had semiautomatic weapons, and police said they could hear gunshots in the background. 

"Tools to mask or alter someone's voice have been around for a long time," said Doebler. "Just because it sounded like a man's voice doesn't mean it was."

Thankfully, no one was hurt. But a hoax doesn't make the fear go away. 

"It is possible this is someone who is just trying to create chaos," Doebler said. 



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