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15 Dec, 2015 15:17

All Los Angeles schools closed over terror threat; prelim assessment is “hoax” - US rep

All Los Angeles schools closed over terror threat; prelim assessment is “hoax” - US rep

The Los Angeles Unified School District closed all schools after a bomb threat was called in to a school board member, the LA Police Department has confirmed. The LAUSD is the nation’s second largest, with 640,000 students in over 1,000 schools.

The threat was made to “students at school,” LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines said at a press conference Tuesday morning. 

"It was a message," he said refusing to elaborate while the investigation is underway.

A number of people on the school board received a “very specific threat... via email” late Monday night, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told reporters. It was traced back to an IP address in Frankfurt, Germany, according to LAUSD spokeswoman Ellen Morgan.

“After reviewing that threat, we became very concerned, contacted the FBI and began to work jointly… to try to vet that threat and to be able to give the school board and the superintendent our best advice on moving forward,” Beck said.

The district is asking parents not to send children to any of the more than 900 public and 187 charter schools in the city. Parents who have already dropped their kids off should pick them up at the reunion gates.

The “credible threat” was “not one school, two schools, three schools. It was a threat to many schools,” Cortines said.

"This is a rare threat. We get threats all the time," he added. "I want every school, every early education center, every adult school searched."

The threat mentioned backpacks and other packages, Cortines said.

The FBI is assisting the LAPD and the school police force in the investigation, KCBS reported.

The decision to close all schools was made to be sure that every child and employee is “absolutely safe,” Board of Education President Steve Zimmer said.

However, by the afternoon, several members of Congress doubted the veracity of the threat, the LA Times reported.

“The preliminary assessment is that it was a hoax or something designed to disrupt school districts in large cities. The investigation is ongoing as to where the threat originated from and who was responsible,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California), who represents Los Angeles and is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, reviewed the roughly 350-word message, and said that it “lacks the feel of the way the jihadists usually write.” He added that the ‘from’ line in the email contained a pornographic term to reference a male body party and that the body of the message referenced Liechtenstein.

Parents were notified early Tuesday about the closure.

"I literally woke up to the call," parent Jim Alger told KNBC. "There's this element of fear. Things like this are kind of reminiscent of the post-9/11 days. But I guess it's better safe than sorry."

All students were picked up by 12:15 p.m. local time, the school district said on its webpage.

School buses were called back to their depots after the decision to close, so most students were not at schools.

The threat comes amid the final exam period for high schools, the Los Angeles Times reported.

New York City Public Schools also faced a threat on Tuesday morning, but the New York Police Department ‒ working closely with the FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Force and the LAPD ‒ deemed it was a hoax.

“We are very comfortable that this is not a credible threat… concerned with people overreacting to it,” NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said in a NYPD tweet.

After Bratton, who once served as the LAPD chief, criticized Los Angeles’ reaction to the emailed threat and residents complained of a potential overreaction online, several city officials blasted those comments.

“It is very easy for people to jump to conclusions… usually what people think in the first few hours is not necessarily how it plays out in later hours,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “But decisions need to be made in a manner of minutes.”

“The school district safeguards three quarters of a million lives every day. When they make a decision, they have to take into account the safety of the children of Los Angeles,” Beck said. “I think it’s irresponsible, based on facts that have yet to be determined, to criticize that decision at this point.”

“These are tough times. These communities, our communities, Southern California has been through a lot in the recent weeks,” he added. “Should we risk putting our children through the same?”

Garcetti also noted that he supported Cortines’ decision to close schools, even if it makes life difficult for many parents who “still have to continue to get to work and can’t even afford to miss one day.”

The city activated the its emergency operations center at level 1, the lowest level, Garcetti said.

The LAPD has taken the lead role on the investigation, according to normal protocol.

The president has been informed of the threat against LAUSD, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at the daily briefing.