ST. GEORGE — A threat from a Google Phone account associated with “swatting,” or the practice of making a crank call to police to make them come to a certain address, caused St. George Police to secure Washington County-area schools around noon Wednesday.
Snow Canyon High School students were near the end of their 11 a.m.-noon lunch period when police started to arrive at the school in northern St. George. Police were situated at both entrances off Warrior Way with more than 10 officers and six police vehicles.
St. George Police Officer Tiffany Mitchell told St. George News police received a call with a threat against Snow Canyon High School. The call was placed through Google Phone, making it uncertain whether the call was local or even from out-of-state, Mitchell said.
At Snow Canyon High, police remained at the school for over an hour. One unit remained at 1:10 p.m. after it was determined the call came from a Google Phone account associated with so-called swatting, Mitchell said.
“After a thorough investigation, the phone call came from when someone decides for whatever reason to make a call like this to see what police presence takes place,” Mitchell said in a statement. “We’re resuming normal operations at this time but are keeping some resources on site.”
Washington County School District Director of Communications Steve Dunham confirmed there was a threat called in but deferred further comment to St. George Police.
“Swatting” incidents have been on the rise nationwide. Nearly two weeks ago, an online threat to school statewide that resulted in an increased police presence at Hurricane High was squelched as a prank.
Mitchell and other officers at Snow Canyon High said there was no active shooting or active suspect at the school or any other in the Washington County School District, but Snow Canyon and all other schools were placed on “secure status.” That is differentiated from a lockdown in that while exterior school doors are locked and some movement inside the schools is restricted, all other activities don’t change.
In addition, police and the district were asking parents not to come to pick up their children from school, and that all is being done to “keep their kids safe,” Mitchell said.
That didn’t keep two or three parents from driving up to the school and showing concern after rumors surfaced on social media. One woman drove up, her hand over her heart saying she heard “there was an active shooting” at the school and was wondering about her child.
But police elaborated that contrary to online rumor, there was no active threat taking place at Snow Canyon or any other school. However, Mitchell told St. George News that the reason for a district-wide alert is to make sure all schools are protected.
“This threat was specific to Snow Canyon High School, but that being said, we don’t want it to be a ruse where they think we’re going to send all our eggs to this basket and leave other schools vulnerable,” Mitchell said. “So we have officers at all the schools to ensure all the students and staff are safe.”
It also turned out that if specially-trained officers were needed, the St. George SWAT team happened to be doing a training exercise near Snow Canyon High School when the threat was called in.
Mitchell said even if the threat turned out to be a hoax, police response should be reassuring to local parents that police are ready to protect local students.
“We take this very seriously. We train multiple times a year on this and, and so we, we’re ready,” Mitchell said. “We’re as ready as we hope we can be.”
Update 3 p.m., Sept. 27, 2023: Police confirm as “swatting” incident, additional detail from the scene and video added.
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