Threats to Denfeld, other Northland schools deemed not credible
St. Louis County staff received several 911 calls around noon Tuesday "in reference to school shootings."
DULUTH — Police believe that threats made late Tuesday morning at multiple Northland schools are not credible.
At least one 911 call made from out of state threatened Denfeld High School as well as elementary schools in Eveleth and Ely.
Authorities believe it’s a case of “swatting": a hoax call made to 911 or other emergency services to bring armed police officers, such as a SWAT team, to a specific home, place of business or other location. Staff at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension claimed that each call made on Tuesday, plus several more made on Monday, appear to have come from one person using a voice over IP service, which allows users to make phone calls over the internet.
“There is no active threat,” Wade Rasch, a supervising deputy at the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office, wrote in a Tuesday afternoon news release.
School district staff in Duluth nonetheless barred Denfeld students from eating lunch off-campus, and said there was a “heavy” police presence at the school Tuesday afternoon.
Police in Eveleth received a call at 11:49 a.m. threatening an elementary school there with pipe bombs, according to Eveleth Police Chief Jesse Linde. The caller, Linde said, was difficult to understand and used broken English.
Police spoke to school district staff, who put North Star and Laurentian elementary schools into “soft” lockdowns, as well as every other school in Rock Ridge Public Schools. That means students are barred from leaving the building, but are still allowed to move from class to class, according to Noel Schmidt, the district’s superintendent. A police officer is set to be stationed at each district school when students are released for the day.
“We believe that right now, students are safer in the school building, and we plan on having a normal remainder of the day,” Schmidt said in a message sent to district staff, students and parents.
Also threatened was Washington Elementary School in Ely.
A man called 911 at 11:50 a.m., claiming that he was outside the school with a gun and intended to harm students, according to Chad Houde, chief of the Ely Police Department. The school went into a lockdown of its own, and police from a host of agencies cleared it.
Ely police were posted there for the rest of the day as a precaution, Houde said.
That 911 call triggered confusion in Hibbing, which also has a Washington Elementary School.
“When the swatting or the prank 911 call came in, it specified the Washington school, but it was in Ely,” Tyler Schwerzler, the deputy chief at the Hibbing Police Department, told the News Tribune. “So it originally had got aired as Washington in Hibbing but quickly got changed to the Ely school.”
Schwerzler noted that the threats seem to be coming in alphabetical order by city.
Schools in Austin , Alexandria , Albert Lea , and Bemidji , Minn., were all reportedly threatened on Monday. The schools that received threats on Tuesday, including a high school in Brainerd , were further down the alphabet.
Staff at the Cloquet Police Department and Cloquet Public Schools indicated Tuesday that schools there were not among those threatened Tuesday.
This story was updated multiple times, most recently at at 4:57 p.m. Feb. 28 to include information from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. It was originally posted at 1:24 p.m. Feb. 28.