LOS ANGELES, (Reuters) – Los Angeles shut more than 1,000 public schools yesterday over a threatened attack with bombs and assault rifles, sending hundreds of thousands of students home as city leaders were criticized for overreacting to what authorities later said was apparently a hoax.
The emailed threat, which authorities said was routed through Germany but likely originated locally, was made nearly two weeks after a married couple inspired by Islamic State killed 14 people and wounded 22 others at a county office building 60 miles (100 km) away in San Bernardino.
“Based on past circumstance, I could not take the chance,” Los Angeles School Superintendent Ramon Cortines told a news conference early in the day.
But federal officials, who asked not to be identified, echoed an assessment by New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton that the decision in Los Angeles was an “overreaction.” New York had received an almost identical threat that was quickly deemed not credible.
After more than 1,500 school district sites had been inspected by nightfall, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti conceded that the message appeared to have been a hoax.
“We can now announce the FBI has determined that this is not a credible threat,” Garcetti said, adding that the incident required further investigation but “what we do know is, it will be safe for our children return to school tomorrow.
Despite that determination, Garcetti and Police Chief Charlie Beck stood by the decision to close the schools. They said New York officials had more time to assess the threat, which was sent to both districts from the same IP address.
But the unprecedented move at the second-largest public school system in the United States left some 643,000 students and their parents confused and frustrated.
City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who has two children in LAUSD schools, complained about the lack of a timely district-wide emergency alert system, pointing out that many students learned of the closures from their friends via social media.
“I disagree with closing the schools because we’re just showing these people that we’re scared of them,” said Marisol Hadadi, whose son attends Marquez Elementary School in Pacific Palisades.
Ronna Bronstein, who has two sons in grade school, said she was trying to find out more while shielding her younger child from the news.
“I don’t want him to be frightened to go back to school tomorrow,” she said. A 17-year-old boy was walking to his charter high school when he was struck and killed by a truck at 7:31 a.m., officials said, minutes after LAUSD said classes would be canceled for the day.