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1200 Schools Shut Down in Los Angeles After Terror Threat

By Nigel Boys

Over 1,000 public schools were shut down on Tuesday in Los Angeles, the second largest school district in the U.S., after a threatened attack with bombs and assault rifles.

Authorities believe that the emailed threat likely originated locally, but it was then routed through Germany, according to Reuters. After around 643,000 students were sent home from over 1,200 schools in the district, officials declared later that the threat was likely a hoax.

The scare comes just two weeks after a suspected radicalized Muslim couple allegedly opened fire on party goers at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people and leaving at least another 20 injured.

The alleged shooters, 28-year-old Syed Farook and his 27-year-old wife, Tashfeen Malik, were both reported to have been killed in a shootout with police around five hours after the massacre at the event, hosted by the San Bernardino County Health Department.

While the closure of the full district was the first of its kind in at least a decade, officials believed that it was the right thing to do to protect students from elementary through to high school. However, the district has been criticized by others for reacting excessively, according to reports.

“Based on past circumstance, I could not take the chance,” Los Angeles School Superintendent Ramon Cortines told a news conference.

“It was not to one school, two schools or three schools, it was many schools, not specifically identified… that’s the reason I took the action that I did,” Cortines continued. “I am not taking the chance of taking children any place into the building until I know it’s safe,” he said, adding later in the day that all schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District were expected to reopen on Wednesday.

Stating that New York had received an almost identical threat that was quickly deemed not credible, Police Commissioner, William Bratton, called the decision in Los Angeles an “overreaction.”

However, Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti, backed the decision of the school district and Police Chief Charlie Beck, stating that threats of this kind should not be second-guessed. He added the reason he believed officials acted correctly was that the threat was “very specific to Los Angeles Unified School District campuses.”

While parents of students in the district were put at ease knowing their children would be safe, some argued that the announcement to close the schools was not done in a proper manner.

Joe Buscaino, a City Councilman who has two children in LAUSD schools, complained that many students learned of the closures from their friends on social media, which showed a lacking in the district-wide emergency alert system.

The district “needs to embrace the same real-time notification that our students and parents are already using,” Buscaino wrote in a Facebook post.

“I don’t want him to be frightened to go back to school tomorrow,” said Ronna Bronstein, who has two sons in elementary school. She added that while she was attempting to shield her younger child from being terrified by the news, she was also trying to find out more about the threat.

However, not everyone was in agreement with the LAUSD closing the school without first consulting the FBI, who typically takes the lead on investigations into potential terrorist threats.

“I disagree with closing the schools because we’re just showing these people that we’re scared of them,” said Marisol Hadadi, who has a 10-year-old son attending Marquez Elementary school.

Reuters reported that Bratton, a former Los Angeles police chief said: “To disrupt the daily schedules of half a million school children, their parents, day care, buses based on an anonymous email, without consultation, if in fact, consultation did not occur with law enforcement authorities, I think it was a significant overreaction.”

Mayor Garcetti denied that the closure was done without first contacting federal law enforcement officials.

The alleged writer of the email threat claimed that he was a devout Muslim who had been bullied at a Los Angeles High School, according to Congressman Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California. He added that the writer claimed he was prepared to launch an attack using bombs, nerve gas and rifles, along with 32 of his “jihadist friends.”

Since the author of the email failed to capitalize the word “Allah” several times, along with his claim to have nerve gas, it brought doubts as to the threat’s credibility, Sherman told the New York Times.

“While we continue to gather information about the threat made against the Los Angeles and New York School Departments, the preliminary assessment is that it was a hoax or something designed to disrupt school districts in large cities,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives intelligence committee, said in a written statement.

Mayor Garcetti, Superintendent Cortines and Police Chief Beck all backed the decision 100 percent.

Cortines said that the reference in the email to multiple campuses and the mention of backpacks and other packages, made the threat stand out from others the district had received in the past, because of its seriousness and scope.

“I have been around long enough to know that usually what people think in the first few hours is not what plays out in later hours,” said the mayor, Garcetti. “But decisions have to be made in a matter of minutes.”

Beck added that criticism of the decision in the aftermath of the December 2 attack in San Bernardino was a very “irresponsible” move.

According to reports, over half of the more than 1,000 schools had been searched and cleared, but nothing suspicious had been found, by Tuesday 2 p.m.

“It involves looking in classrooms, closets, lockers – if you can get bomb-sniffing dogs in there, doing that – vehicles and surrounding perimeter areas,” said Professor Brian Levin, remarking on what a massive task the authorities had to search all the schools. “If I were chief, I’d want more time. But maybe the political pressures don’t allow for that,” added the expert on counter-terrorism and hate crimes at Cal State University San Bernardino.

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