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Active shooter threats at N.H. schools appear to be a hoax, according to state officials

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Josh Rogers
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NHPR
Police check IDs of parents arriving to pick up their children at St. John's Regional School in Concord, after a false call of an active shooter was made.

Note: This is a developing story. We will do our best to share additional updates as we’re able to verify them.

The New Hampshire Department of Safety said it believes that the reports of active shooter threats at several local schools Thursday morning are a hoax, but authorities are investigating the situation.

State officials did not identify which schools were affected by the active shooter threats, but officials in Concord, Dover, Portsmouth and Keene said their schools were among those targeted.

“At this time, these reports are believed to be a hoax,” the New Hampshire Department of Safety said Thursday morning. “However, all threats will be taken seriously until such time as their validity is determined. Everyone is encouraged to report any suspicious activity to their local law enforcement agency.”

The Concord School District placed several schools in lockdown Thursday morning, citing what the district called an “active shooter situation” at the city’s St. John Regional School. About an hour after sharing that update, the district said its campuses were returning to normal after the situation was “determined to be a hoax.”

Concord Deputy Police Chief John Thomas told reporters his department received a call from someone who claimed to be at St. John Regional School, reporting an active shooter, around 9:50 a.m. Thursday. He said students and faculty were in a religious service when the police arrived at the campus and forced their way into several school buildings.

“There was no answer at the doors, we assumed they were in lockdown,” Thomas said. “We later found out it was actually a church day, so all the students and faculty were actually in the church.”

As police searched the school in Concord, they were notified other schools across the state were getting similar calls about active shooters incidents.

Seacoastonline reports schools in Portsmouth and Dover were also placed on lockdown in response to active shooter reports Thursday morning.

Officials with SAU29, which includes Keene and surrounding communities, said the district also received a call “which proved to be false and is believed to be part of the reports received around the state.”

The New Hampshire Department of Education said it asked school leaders across the state “to be alert and cognizant, but to also understand that local law enforcement agencies are aware of the situation and monitoring it closely.”

They said they understand that "safety is the top priority" and encouraged districts "to do what is in the best interest of your schools." At the same time, the state education department said they “do not wish to create additional disruptions to our school facilities, knowing that these reports are believed to be a hoax."

State authorities noted that hoax calls have also been reported in other states. Last month, authorities in Maine received reports of active shooter threats at 10 schools that were later deemed to be a hoax, as reported by Maine Public.

An NPR analysis found that nearly 200 schools in 28 states were targeted with false active shooter reports between Sept. 13 and Oct. 21. Federal authorities are investigating those “swatting” incidents, many of which, according to NPR, appear to be tied to a single person.

The apparent hoaxes nonetheless spurred plenty of stress for families and others across New Hampshire Thursday morning. Parents flocked to St. John Regional School in Concord in the immediate aftermath of the reports to ensure their children were safe.

Luis Berrera said he lives a few blocks away from the school and heard sirens before he learned what was happening.

“I just want to make sure that the kids are OK,” he said while waiting to pick up his seventh grader.

Amy Rigo, another parent, said she was assisting in the operating room of an oral surgery center when she received an alert on her smartwatch about the situation. One of her children attends St. John Regional School, while another attends Concord High School, which was also put on lockdown due to the potential shooter threat.

“It was like, which direction do I run first?” Rigo said. “It was heart-wrenching.”

An official with the Diocese of Manchester, which oversees St. John Regional School, said the situation might have been less stressful for students, who apparently only learned about the false threats after police fully searched the school and deemed it a hoax.

While their parents lined up outside the school building to have their IDs checked by police before reuniting with their children, Manchester Diocese Superintendent David Thibault said students were busy preparing for Christmas.

“The kids practiced their lessons and carols while they waited and did a fabulous job of remaining calm,” Thibault said.

Updated: December 8, 2022 at 12:44 PM EST
This story was updated with additional comments from the New Hampshire Department of Education and additional information about what districts were targeted by the calls. It was also updated with additional details from officials and families at St. John Regional School in Concord.

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