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False call of high school shooting draws police response

Pennsylvania State Police Troop M, Bethlehem, responded March 29 to what was quickly determined to be a false report of a shooter at Catasauqua High School, 2500 W. Bullshead Road, Northampton.

According to a PSP news release, the department received a phone call just before 8 a.m. March 29 saying there was an active shooter at CHS and that students had been shot. Troopers from the Bethlehem and Fogelsville stations responded within minutes and cleared the school tactically.

Police determined there was no shooter and the call was, in fact, a hoax, PSP reported.

The PSP Criminal Investigation Unit is leading an investigation, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Catasauqua Area School District school resource officers.

CASD Superintendent of Schools Robert Spengler shared a communication with the school district community March 29 via Facebook.

He reported the false call led to an “immediate lockdown and initiation of our safety protocols” at both CHS and Catasauqua Middle School.

“While the threat was directed toward the high school, I felt it important to provide the same level of proactivity at our middle school, which was in session during this time frame,” Spengler said.

Spengler credited the efforts of PSP as well as local and school law enforcement who “took swift, immediate action, taking control of the scene and supporting our student and staff needs.” He noted they are lucky to “be surrounded by robust response partners” in the area.

“I am grateful for the extraordinarily quick response by various Pennsylvania State Police units to the scene at Catasauqua High School,” Spengler said. “We are so fortunate to be served by this incredibly responsive and well-trained resource.”

He also lauded the school resource officers “for their decisive and intentional reaction, organization and communication” during the incident.

“Thank God it was a false alarm,” Spengler said. “However, it was truly a test of our safety response and communication protocols in the case of an actual emergency event.”

He noted an active shooter drill was held recently at CHS, which “prepared us well and served as a reminder to constantly prepare and practice for this type of event.” Additionally, he said there will be “an increased security presence” at the schools in the district.

According to the state police report, troopers will have a presence at schools in the region throughout the rest of the school year.

Spengler thanked the district personnel “for their level of care, compassion and dedication to the well-being and safety of our students and fellow team members in the midst of a difficult and emotional situation.”

He also recognized the parents, guardians and students for their “cooperation and understanding during this emotional experience.”

In another March 29 news release, PSP reported it is investigating a series of emergency phone calls involving reports of an active shooter or bomb threat at schools across the state around the same time.

“These phone calls were made to several schools in different counties,” the release said. “All calls have had similar content.”

These calls resulted in lockdowns and evacuations with a large law enforcement response.

According to PSP, all of the calls have been determined to be false, and the investigation is ongoing.

PSP refers to this incident as a “swatting.”

According to a September 2013 FBI report titled “The Crime of ‘Swatting,’” swatting is the act of making a false 911 call to draw a response from law enforcement, often a SWAT team.

“Sometimes swatting is done for revenge, sometimes as a prank,” the FBI report said. “Either way, it is a serious crime and one that has potentially dangerous consequences.”

Spengler said the district is committed to “providing a safe environment” for students, adding there will be counselors and mental health professionals in all district schools for any extra support the students may need.

“Our CASD community is stronger and even more prepared as a result of this senseless false SWAT call,” Spengler said.