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Omaha police seeing uptick in non-credible school threats

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Omaha police and some metro school districts are dealing with an uptick in school threats this school year.

Though none have materialized in the metro area, police say rumored threats often originate on social media and spread like wildfire from around the country to local schools.

“Several of them have occurred in other states on social media like Snapchat or Instagram and made it all the way up to Omaha,” said Omaha Police Sgt. James Shade. “I don’t recall seeing that before — where there’s a specific school threat in a specific city but it spreads so far on social media, and people are assuming it’s real.”

Omaha police didn’t provide the number of reports they have received this school year, noting that there are often dozens of duplicate reports for a single threat, said Lt. Neal Bonacci of the Omaha Police Department.

National reports of rumored shootings and bomb threats are shared through social media, such as the most recent TikTok challenge for a “school shooting day” on Dec. 17.

The challenge included vague, anonymous posts warning that multiple schools would receive shooting and bomb threats.

Shade said the problem that Omaha is seeing is occurring around the U.S. In October, for example, a social media post threatening a school shooting at Central High School in St. Joseph, Missouri, made its way to Omaha, with people raising concern about Central High School in downtown Omaha. Omaha police received more than 50 calls about it.

The Omaha school district didn’t provide figures on how many threats have been reported in the district.

“We take all reports of concerning behavior seriously and investigate immediately,” Bridget Blevins, Omaha Public Schools spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Millard Public Schools also have received a few reports of threats nationally that are spreading on social media, said Rebecca Kleeman, district spokeswoman. Administrators usually send messages to families to keep them informed, she said.

When Omaha police receive a report of a rumored threat, the department works with schools and other agencies to determine if it’s credible, said Lt. Charles Ott, who oversees the city’s school resource officers.

If Omaha police believe a threat came from outside of Nebraska, officials communicate with agencies in other states to confirm where it originated, Ott said.

When officials are investigating a rumored threat that might have been made in Omaha, district administrators and school resource officers are contacted to identify any students who could be responsible.

The threat might be dealt with by the school instead of law enforcement, depending on its severity, Bonacci said.

Despite the rise in national threats, Bonacci said that the majority still involve comments made by local students, either in person or on social media.

Bonacci said some are not actual threats but offhand comments or rumors. While the department tries to take every report seriously, sometimes it can be like “playing telephone,” he said.

Some of the threats result in citations or arrests.

On Dec. 9, OPS parent Charlotte LaZette Young received a text message from her daughter, who attends Monroe Middle School, saying, “Mom, I’m scared” after a potential shooter threat was reported at the school, 5105 Bedford Ave.

Omaha police determined the threat wasn’t credible and cited a Monroe student on suspicion of disorderly conduct, Bonacci said.

Young said she kept her children home that day and some days the following week when national threats were being reported.

Rumored and alleged threats don’t always originate from students.

A Council Bluffs high school math teacher is accused of writing four anonymous notes threatening a shooting this school year. Several notes that were found at Abraham Lincoln High School over a two-week period referenced committing gun violence, police said.

Shade said as reports of these threats pop up in Omaha, he’s surprised by how many times they have been shared before someone notifies police or school administration.

“If you see something like that, it shouldn’t be forwarded to your friends or a group — the entire school could be in danger,” he said.

Omaha police ask anyone who knows about threats specific to the Omaha area to call 911 immediately.

Anonymous reporting is also available through the Safe2HelpNE hotline at (531) 299-SAFE, at www.Safe2helpNE.org or through the Safe2Help mobile app. Reports can be received at any hour of the day.

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