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By Tom Ferrall
Staff Writer 

Local schools are target of bogus bomb threats

 

Last updated 3/29/2018 at 9:29pm



Bogus bomb threats sent via email to personnel at Bonsall and Fallbrook High Schools late March 22 resulted in a long night for school administrators and San Diego County Sheriff's deputies.

The bomb threats, which came from the email address of a student, were believed to be part of a "swatting" hoax as deputies determined that the student had nothing to do with the sent emails.

"Swatting, as I understand it, is a hoax message or bogus message to get law enforcement personnel to a place and to watch the action take place," said Lt. Mark Moreno, commander of the Sheriff's Fallbrook substation. "Whoever is doing the swatting wants to watch the action. That's what swatting is – to get personnel to respond to a place for a critical incident. It's a bogus, hoax call."

Swatting, which can also be used to try to embarrass someone or get them in trouble, can have serious consequences. For example, last December a swatting incident led to the death of an unarmed man in Kansas who was shot by an officer responding to a false report of a shooting and hostage situation.

Moreno said the Computer And Technology Crime High-Tech (C.A.T.C.H.) team, a multi-agency task force dedicated to the investigation of high technology and internet crimes, is working with detective John Johnson of the Fallbrook substation in the follow-up investigation of the emailed bomb threats.

The emails, sent after 10 p.m. March 22, went to the email addresses of a Bonsall High employee and the school email address of Dr. David Farkas, principal of Fallbrook High.

The Bonsall High employee contacted Bonsall High principal Lee Fleming, who then contacted Sgt. Bill Munsch at the Fallbrook substation and Bonsall Unified School District superintendent David Jones.

"I got a call from my sergeant at about 10:30 p.m. explaining that he got a call from the Bonsall principal about a bomb threat and that he was going to check it out," said Moreno. "About 15 minutes later, Dr. Farkas from Fallbrook High School called me and said he received an email bomb threat. I told him Bonsall was going through the same thing."

Deputies from the Fallbrook substation as well as deputies from Vista conducted visual inspections of the Bonsall High School, Sullivan Middle School and Fallbrook High School campuses. Three bomb-sniffing dogs from Camp Pendleton were also employed, first at Fallbrook High and then Bonsall and Sullivan. While the schools were being checked, the student whose name was on the email was also contacted and cooperated with authorities.

Jones and Fleming met the deputies at Bonsall High School and Farkas did the same at Fallbrook High.

"The two of us met them at the school and made sure they got into every classroom – every room – so that they could do their due diligence and do the bomb threat assessment of every single room in both the middle school and the high school," said Jones, who was jarred awake by Fleming's call.

Jones, following the conclusion of the visual inspections, sent out an early-morning email via Blackboard Connect to all parents and staff in the BUSD.

"It was concluded at 1 a.m. that it was safe to resume school (March 23), so I went back to my office and wrote out a letter and pushed out that letter to all parents and staff members that this had occurred and that at 1 a.m. the Sheriff's deputies concluded it was safe."

The bomb-sniffing dogs that had been at Fallbrook High arrived later in the morning at Bonsall before classes started.

"They (deputies) took it a step further – and some parents were concerned, and I would be concerned as well – but they did their due diligence by coming back with dogs in the morning just to do another threat assessment," said Jones. "And they felt even more sure with that second round with the dogs – the second sweep – it was safe to resume school."

Farkas, who was checking his email one final time before going to sleep when he saw the bomb threat, said he was at Fallbrook High with law enforcement officials until 4:30 a.m.

Although no classes were scheduled at Fallbrook High March 23 since it was the first day of spring break, Farkas wrote a message to parents and staff about the situation and it was released – via email and phone calls through an on-line system – midday Friday.

Farkas' message regarding the email included, "It's unfortunate that so many schools have to address these types of jokes and pranks as we strive to create the safest campus environments possible, but rest assured any content that creates a cause for concern will be handled swiftly and with a strong response."

Moreno said school officials did a good job handling the situation.

"The relationships between the schools and the (Sheriff's) department have been very good," said Moreno. "The safety of schools is very important and threats at schools are taken very seriously, so we have to have that relationship. As long as we can have that kind of bond and relationship and communication, I think things will be running smoothly."

 

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