All Los Angeles area public schools were shut down Tuesday after a school board member received an emailed threat that raised fears of another attack like the deadly shooting in nearby San Bernardino.
New York City officials say they received the same threat, but quickly concluded that it was a hoax. New York Police Commissioner William Bratton said he thought Los Angeles officials overreacted.
Bratton said the person who wrote the note claimed to be a jihadist, but made errors that made it clear the person was a prankster.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters that he was “absolutely convinced” there was no danger to schoolchildren in his city.
“There was nothing credible about the threat. It was so outlandish,” de Blasio said.
Los Angeles officials defended the move.
“It is very easy in hindsight to criticize a decision based on results the decider could never have known,” LA Police Chief Charlie Beck said at a news conference.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he would not second-guess the decisions made in Los Angeles or New York. He said the FBI has been in touch with California authorities.
Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman Shannon Haber said the threat was sent by email to a school board member and was believed to have come from an IP address in Frankfurt, Germany.
Authorities would not elaborate on the threat, saying it was still being evaluated. They described the shutdown was a precaution.
The shutdown abruptly closed more than 1,000 schools attended by 640,000 students across Los Angeles.
Superintendent Ramon Cortines said every campus would be searched, and he asked for a report from the school board certifying that they are safe.
Lupita Vela, who has a daughter in elementary school and a son in high school, called the threat “absolutely terrifying” in light of the San Bernardino attack, which killed 14 people earlier this month.
She got an automated phone call informing her of the closure.
“I know the kids are anxious,” she said.
The Los Angeles Unified School District commonly gets threats, but Cortines called this one rare.
“It was not to one school, two schools or three schools,” he said at a news conference. “It was many schools, not specifically identified. But there were many schools. That’s the reason I took the action that I did ... It was to students at schools.”
The San Bernardino attack influenced the decision to close the entire district, Cortines said.
The superintendent said the district police chief informed him about the threat shortly after 5 a.m.
“He shared with me that some of the details talked about backpacks, talked about other packages,” Cortines said.
Vela said she worries about talking to her kids about the threat and terrorism in general. She’s concerned about her daughter feeling safe in class.
“I don’t want this to be in the back of her head,” she said. “Who knows what it does psychologically to kids? Is this going to cause her some kind of trauma so that she’s not going to feel safe at school?”
The closure came the same day classes were canceled at San Bernardino Valley College because of a bomb threat. Students and staff were sent home around 5:30pm Monday.