WESTERLY, R.I. (WPRI) — An investigation is underway after hoax calls disrupted school Monday morning in more than a dozen Rhode Island districts.
Rhode Island State Police told 12 News at least 14 cities and towns received calls reporting an active shooter, all of which were found to be fake. A number of schools were put on lockdown until police were able to respond to assure the buildings were safe.
The districts included Barrington, Bristol, Chariho, Charlestown, Cranston, East Greenwich, East Providence, Narragansett, North Kingstown, Portsmouth, Westerly and Woonsocket, 12 News learned.
These so-called “swatting” calls came in a short time before an actual school shooting in Nashville left seven people dead, including three children.
The Rhode Island State Police Fusion Center is now collecting information on the hoax calls and working to track down who’s responsible. Col. Darnell Weaver said police believe the calls were made by the same person, based on their voice.
Target 12 has learned the caller sounded male with a heavy accent and claimed to be locked in a bathroom with victims. The calls all originated from the same number.
Anyone found guilty of making hoax phone calls in Rhode Island could face felony charges.
“Obviously, anything related to school shootings, in today’s day and age, the police respond and think about the lockdown. The courts take it really seriously, as well as the prosecutors,” said 12 News law enforcement analyst and former R.I. State Police Col. Steven O’Donnell.
“There’s also violations of federal law, which could be up to a five-year minimum,” he added.
Victor Morente, a spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Education, released a statement saying the department is working with local authorities and the School Safety Committee to “assess the reach of these calls.”
“With that said, the safety and well-being of students and school staff a top priority,” Morente said. “RIDE has worked with State Police, the School Safety Committee, and local school and police districts to ensure that proper safety plans are in place for these scenarios.”
Similar hoax calls were received by schools in Massachusetts last month.
Target 12 Investigator Tim White contributed to this report.