CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Prank phone calls prompted large police responses at several schools across South Carolina on Wednesday.
A hoax phone call prompted a lockdown at Burke High School just before 10:00 a.m. after Inspector Michael Gillooly with the Charleston Police Department (CPD) said a call was received within the city regarding an “active shooter” at the school.
Police said at the time of their investigation that the call was believed to be a hoax and later confirmed the prank following what they called an “exhaustive sweep of the school by law enforcement.”
News 2’s sister station, WBTW-TV, reported a large police presence at several schools in Horry County after officials received multiple prank calls that prompted law enforcement responses. District spokesperson Lisa Bourcier later said the incidents appear to have been a prank and that all students are safe.
“We have fallen victim to what is believed to be swatting (making a prank call to emergency services in an attempt to bring about the dispatch of a large number of first responders) calls regarding incidents at various schools, which include Myrtle Beach High, Myrtle Beach Middle, and Conway High, to date,” Bourcier said in an email.
A heavy police response was also reported at Beaufort High School around 9:30 a.m. following reports of shots fired. The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office responded to the school and rendered it to be clear of any victims and said no shooter was found.
“At this point, the origin of the original call is being investigated,” officials with the sheriff’s office said.
Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner is expected to discuss the call and the law enforcement response Wednesday afternoon.
Prank calls also prompted a heavy police response at Blythewood High School north of Columbia and two additional calls in the Greenville-Spartanburg area.
The State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) said they are aware of the school; threats across the state and are evaluating the credibility of the threats.
“While at this time the threats are believed to be a hoax, SLED encourages each jurisdiction to take any and all threats seriously,” the agency said. “SLED is actively working with our state and federal law enforcement partners.”
Law enforcement across the country has responded to numerous types of these prank calls in recent weeks. It’s a practice the FBI calls “swatting,” which they describe as faking an emergency that draws a response from law enforcement, typically SWAT.
While the calls are eventually determined to be false, they cause a large disruption for students, staff and parents — who all feel fear when they see a large police response at their school.
“Until law enforcement clears the location or satisfies it as a prank, they are going to go as if it’s real,” Former FBI Special Agent Stuart Kaplan told NewsNation. “That’s a very dangerous scenario for law enforcement, as well as the person on the other side of that.”
Experts say some of the threats are discovered on social media or smartphone apps that can be tough to trace, and juveniles are often behind the false reports.