Delaware congressional delegation awaits FBI update on school bomb threats

DOVER — As schools statewide received a wave of computer-generated phone call threats in January, Delaware’s U.S. congressional delegation requested more information from the FBI about its efforts to assist.

On Jan. 27, Democratic Sens. Thomas Carper and Chris Coons, and Rep. John Carney announced publicly they sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey seeking “more information about the Bureau’s efforts to assist state and local law enforcement in investigating and addressing threats of violence against schools.”

Delaware State Police said it investigated 19 anonymous incidents involving Kent, Sussex and New Castle counties from Jan. 11 to Feb. 9,

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Thomas R. Carper

while municipal agencies also reported multiple responses to threatening calls made to schools.

On Tuesday, State Police said a coordinated investigation including the FBI was ongoing.

“There are no further updates or investigative leads into the threats throughout the state,” spokesman Master Cpl. Gary Fournier said.

Earlier this week, however, it wasn’t apparent that the FBI had yet responded to Delaware’s elected officials. A spokeswoman for Sen. Carper did not say that the FBI had responded, and issued a statement regarding the matter.

“The string of threats made to schools in Delaware incites fear, takes valuable learning time away from students and is costly to law enforcement,” Sen. Carper said. “My office has asked the FBI how it is deploying its resources and coordinating efforts to find and punish the bad actors who are creating these worrisome disturbances.

“A school should be a safe environment and we need to work together to make sure we are using all of the tools we have — both local, regionally and national — to eliminate these threats.”

‘Nothing new to report’

On Monday, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Baltimore field office said there “was nothing new to report” but updates would be provided when available. When asked if the FBI had made any communications at all with Delaware’s delegation regarding the request, the spokeswoman responded, “Any communication with Congressional delegates are handled by our director’s office and congressional affairs at our headquarters in Washington. The responses are sent directly to writers.”

When media requested Washington headquarters contact information on Tuesday, the spokeswoman responded, “I’ve put in some calls to headquarters and asked about it. I will let you know what I find out. Thanks.”

On Tuesday, Dover Police said there were no updates on investigations.

Delaware’s congressional delegation stated publicly their concerns of threats to First State schools, coming on the heels of incidents in Maryland and Virginia as well.

“While thankfully, no bombs were found in any of these incidents, the threats caused some schools to be evacuated, triggered law enforcement investigations, and raised concerns about the safety and welfare of school children,” the letter expressed to FBI Director Comey.

The delegation stressed that national importance of threats to schools, pointing to incidents in California and New Hampshire that closed hundreds of schools for thousands of students.

“While these threats were later determined to be hoaxes, they created a great deal of stress and anxiety for students, parents, and educators alike, while disrupting the school day and undermining the ability of teachers to teach and students to (l)earn,” the letter stated.

State, national concerns

The national aspect of the incidents led Sens. Carper and Coons and Rep. Carney, to call on the FBI for an assist.

“It is our understanding that the investigation of the bomb threats in Delaware were conducted by the Delaware State Police and supported by local law enforcement units, as well,” according to the letter. “As we understand, bomb threats of this nature are viewed as criminal acts to be handled by state and local law enforcement.

“With that said, when a bomb threat seemingly replicates itself across multiple schools, school districts and states — as the Delaware threats did — it may be appropriate to bring federal resources to bear, too, in order to identify the sources of the threats and to prevent future incidents from occurring.

“For example, it was publicly reported that the (FBI) is assisting state and local partners in identifying the source of threats to several schools districts made last week in eastern Massachusetts.”

The congressmen asked the FBI to provide information to five questions, including:

• Under what circumstances does the FBI assist state and local law enforcement entities with investigations into threats of violence against schools?

• Does the FBI provide guidance or training to state and local law enforcement related to best practices for addressing threats of violence against schools?

• Does the FBI maintain statistics regarding school threats? If so, please provide those statistics, including the frequency with which individuals making threats of violence against schools are prosecuted?

• Does the FBI work with other federal partners, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to address threats of violence against schools?

• Do the types of technologies used to make threats of violence against schools, including social media or computer-generated phone calls, make it more difficult to evaluate the credibility of a threat?

The delegation contended that no national guidelines currently exist “to help officials determine threat levels.”

“These officials must make decisions and balance the need for safety and protecting students with the desire not to cause undue panic if the threats are hoaxes.

“State and local officials must also evaluate the legitimacy of threats that are increasingly coming through social media of other forms of technology that can be difficult to trace.”

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