20 Massachusetts schools were reported to have received bomb threats in the early morning on Tuesday, September 27th.
According to a Facebook post by Gardener, Mass. mayor Michael Nicholson, more than 20 Massachusetts schools received an ominous bomb threat early on September 27, 2022. An unidentified person made the phone calls to central Mass. campuses including Gardner High School, Oakmont Regional High School, and Overlook Middle School, but unlike some bomb threats, the caller failed to identify a motive. The school violence threats led to lockdowns and evacuations while law enforcement officials investigated the situation.
Gardner High School Superintendent Mark J. Pellegrino addressed the threat in a letter to the school community. “We were one of twenty districts that were mentioned in this threat,” Pellegrino said. “Within minutes, our police and fire departments were on site at the high school, and students were evacuated to Watkins Field while the authorities and staff investigated the threat.”
Pellegrino added that there has been an increase in people making false threats against Massachusetts school districts, but reassured the community that student and staff safety was their highest priority. Officials in nearby Ashburnham emphasized that the phoned-in threats at Oakmont Regional High and Overlook Middle School were not linked in any way to an active shooter situation. At those schools, the police investigation focused on the parking lots instead of the school buildings.
Students and staff at both Ashburnham schools were ordered to shelter in place while the city’s police force investigated the parking lots. No traffic was allowed into the school areas during that time, beginning around 7:50 a.m. Less than two hours later, police had cleared both schools and issued a statement that the threat was unsubstantiated.
Ashburnham Westminster Regional School District Superintendent Todd Stewart said in a letter that students and staff were never in any danger. He also apologized for students being held on buses and for traffic delays related to the incident while vowing to join local first responders in keeping Massachusetts schools safe. “As always, the safety of our students and staff is our top priority and we will continue to ensure that all protocols and procedures are constantly updated, practiced, and executed when needed.”
State police disagreed with the claim that 20 Massachusetts schools were involved, with spokesperson David Procopio stating that they were only aware of the threats at Gardener High, Oakmont Regional High, and Overlook Middle School. “Our intelligence center is only aware of threats to Ashburnham schools. We are not aware of threats to any other schools.” Procopio added, “there have not been any credible or confirmed explosive or hazardous devices found at any school in the state today.”
Although the person making the ominous phone calls may see it as an entertaining prank, state law considers bomb threats at Massachusetts schools a serious terroristic threat. Because bomb threats have sometimes proven real, school and law enforcement officials must treat each case with vigilance to assure public safety. Those found guilty of causing disruption through false threats can face up to 20 years in state prison and fines up to $50,000.
Additionally, anyone calling in a bomb threat could face additional federal charges of terrorism. Local law enforcement agencies often notify the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, or other federal agencies when a bomb threat is made. These agencies could easily cost taxpayers millions of dollars in one day, making these hoaxes an expensive waste of resources that could be used on solving real crimes.
The incident follows a trend of other Massachusetts schools recently receiving similar threats. The day before, a suspicious package delivery triggered the evacuation of an administrative building at Boston University until a bomb squad determined the package posed no threat. The week before, people at Northeastern University were made to shelter in place while another bomb threat was investigated.