Sheriff Rick Staly with Superintendent LaShakia Moore and School Board Chair Will Furry during a press conference this afternoon. (© FlaglerLive)

Sheriff Rick Staly with Superintendent LaShakia Moore and School Board Chair Will Furry during a press conference this afternoon. (© FlaglerLive)
Sheriff Rick Staly with Superintendent LaShakia Moore and School Board Chair Will Furry during a press conference this afternoon. (© FlaglerLive)

There are no arrests, no serious leads, no understandable motives behind the spate of “swatting” calls that have disrupted classes and activities at several schools in Flagler County over the last three days, caused immeasurable anxiety among students, faculty and parents, and caused law enforcement and other responders to expend untold work-hours and other resources.

Other than what Sheriff Rick Staly cryptically termed “non-traditional evidence,” he could not specify what detectives had gathered, whether the voice behind the calls is an adult or an adolescent, or whether there are more than one callers.

There were some indications, however, that the caller, or callers, had poor knowledge of Palm Coast or Flagler County, which suggests that they may be acting from a distant location, randomly picking targets on a map. Those indications are further buttressed by the fact that this year, Staly said, five other Florida counties were similarly targeted, while several other communities across the country also were. It is not beyond the realm of possibilities that the swatting calls are a different form of purposeful disinformation now common in social media, intended not only to disrupt communities, but to sow chaos and undermine the factual or the real.

That’s the nature of anonymous, or in the words of School Board Chairman Will Furry, “cowardly” anonymous calls intended to disrupt and scare communities.

Staly said there are stepped up investigations and security measures and continued responses as necessary, while schools will continue to invoke necessary protocols, calibrating them to each threat.

Staly addressed the community in a press conference this afternoon alongside Superintendent LaShakia Moore and Furry. Andy Dance, chairman of the County Commission, was in the audience. “The community is in turmoil over this,” Dance said. “I just wanted to hear the sheriff firsthand.”

Staly and Moore commended the response by faculty and students–“we have learned a lot from Stoneman Douglas,” the sheriff said in reference to the 2018 school massacre in Parkland that killed 17 students and faculty–but could not provide the satisfaction of an arrest or an idea of who may be behind the calls.

Moore’s response is to persevere with the short remainder of the year without too much giving in to the  fears. “Bring your child to school. We’re going to have a normal rest of the year, lots of fun activities planned for our students, but it’s the parents’ right to decide,” Moore said. “What we have done is we have excused and we will continue to excuse absences for families who decide to keep their child at home, and that is their right and we want to respect that.”

But for now, the sheriff acknowledged that whoever is making the calls has succeeded in causing the intended disruptions and police responses. “They are getting what they’re trying to accomplish–a large response from law enforcement,” Staly said.

He was precise in one regard: the enormous outlay of resources every time dispatchers here, in Volusia County or as far as Lincoln, Neb., received threats involving Flagler County schools.

The first call was a threat against Buddy Taylor Middle School on Monday, by someone threatening to shoot up the school, but right after dismissal–(another indication that the caller was or is clueless about the local school–or perhaps had just gotten home. Twenty-four Flagler County Sheriff’s units responded, as did units of Flagler County Fire Rescue and the Palm Coast Fire Department, in standby mode. Deputies using bomb-sniffing dogs searched the school and searched the Wadsworth Elementary campus as well, which was still in session. Nothing found.

The next day at 7 a.m., another call, again threatening a shooting against Buddy Taylor Middle School. Twenty-two units responded. Twenty-five buses that were inbound to Buddy Taylor were rerouted to Indian Trails Middle School, where parents had the option of either picking up their child or children or leaving them there until they could be bused to Buddy Taylor again, as most were when the all-clear was issued.

Same day–Wednesday–at 2:45 p.m., 911 got yet another call, this one threatening to shoot every law enforcement officer who responded to Old Kings Elementary, where two bombs had allegedly been placed. Nineteen patrol units responded. Nothing found. As the units were conducting their work there, an anonymous caller contacted the Lincoln, Neb., Police Department, to issue yet another threat against Buddy Taylor Middle, in yet one more indication that the caller is unlikely to be local, or conversant with Palm Coast geography. The Lincoln Police Department tracked down the school and contacted the Sheriff’s Office, which sent more units to the middle school. Around the same time, Volusia County 911 got a call, a threat against First Baptist Academy in Bunnell, where five Sheriff’s units and two Bunnell Police Department units responded. Finally this morning at 6:50 a.m., Volusia County 911 again got a threat against Buddy Taylor Middle, where 12 units responded.

“In every incident,” Staly said, “sheriff’s deputies swiftly responded in full force and searched thoroughly until no threats were found and everything was clear and including using our explosive detection keen on during these situations. We continue to maintain a presence at all other Flagler schools we conducted proactive patrols to ease parents kids and faculty concerns.” He said similar “swatting” alerts were triggered this year in Bay, Brevard, Duval, Escambia and Miami Dade counties, while nationwide similar calls have been received across the country, targeting officials and others.

Staly said it was “imperative to combat disinformation,” such as the disinformation he read on social media about the last few days’ alerts–the alleged discovery of a gun or a suspicious package on campus, neither of which was true.

There is not great hope to find the perpetrator, or perpetrators, who could be local, or somewhere else in the state, the country or anywhere on the planet. In a sense, the swatting is similar to the phishing that targeted Flagler schools and successfully swindled over $700,000 away from a construction project at Matanzas High School to the scheme’s perpetrators. Law enforcement recovered a few thousand dollars of that, but has little hope of recovering the rest.

“Once in a while we get lucky on these kinds of swatting calls,” Staly said. “We identified one that came out of Virginia a year or so ago and was assisted in that case. So, what motivates these people, who knows.” He noted: “Obviously I can’t put 22 deputies at each school.”

“This is a very dangerous response: when you think you can have 22 patrol units responding, blue lights and siren in traffic,” the sheriff said. “It’s dangerous for our deputies. It’s dangerous for the community in this response. And that’s why we’re going to do everything we can to try to find this individual and arrest them. And each call that they make is a felony by itself.” He said if a perpetrator was arrested, and if that perpetrator is under 18, the perpetrator’s parents would also be likely to face criminal charges.

As far as schools are concerned, the priority has been on informing parents and ensuring students’ safety. “We’re not making any changes to our rest of our school year. We only have a few days left,” Moore said. The last day of school for students is May 23, the last day for faculty is the following day, the eve of the Memorial Day weekend. But the disruptions have taken a toll, Moore conceded. “This is something that has impacted and disrupted school across our district but our staff they have responded extremely well,” she said. “Our students have done a phenomenal job of responding.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

California Will Add 11% Tax Guns and Ammo. That Could Diminish Violence.

By Topher L. McDougal Starting in July 2024, California will be the…

‘It does look like some soil’: Family alleges funeral home returned baby’s urn without ashes inside

Background: Google Maps image of Stan Henderson & Sons Mortuary near Atlanta,…

Wieambilla shootings: Bid to keep 'extremely sensitive' material away from probe into doomsday preppers' killing of two police officers

By Rex Martinich For Australian Associated Press Published: 02:55 EDT, 21 May…

Lily Cole cuts a stylish figure in a white suit with a matching waistcoat and a satin shirt as she attends an exhibition launch at The Serpentine

By Laura Fox For Mailonline Published: 20:48 EDT, 22 May 2024 |…