LOS ANGELES, Dec. 15 (The L.A. Times/ UPI) — The threat that prompted Los Angeles Unified School District officials to close all schools Tuesday appears to be a hoax, a U.S. congressman on the House Intelligence Committee said.
The L.A. Times reported Tuesday afternoon: “The preliminary assessment is that it was a hoax or something designed to disrupt school districts in large cities. The investigation is ongoing as to where the threat originated from and who was responsible,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said in a statement.
The newspaper said another local congressman, Brad Sherman, said the person who sent an email threat to several Los Angeles Unified School board members claimed to be the victim of bullying and “an extremist Muslim who has teamed up with local jihadists,” although showed no real knowledge of Islam.
The email also mentioned explosive devices, assault rifles and pistols and was traced to an IP address in Frankfurt, Germany, according to law enforcement sources.
Los Angeles Unified School District closed all of its schools, more than 900, on Tuesday morning after a bomb threat was received by a school board member.
A similar threat, also sent from or routed through an overseas email address believed to be in Frankfurt, Germany, was sent to a district in New York City district of 1,600 schools. Law enforcement officials there declared it a hoax.
New York City Police commissioner Bill Bratten said the threat was generic and poorly written with misspellings, and was sent to multiple school districts simultaneously. He did not reveal the other districts contacted.
Bratten added that the name Allah, the Arabic name for God, was spelled without a capital letter, so it is unlikely the threat was made by religious extremists.
California Rep. Brad Sherman revealed the email was written by someone claiming to be a Muslim jihadist, but it contained a pornographic reference to a body part that a Muslim would be unlikely to use, and displayed a general lack of understanding of the Islamic faith.
The letter also made reference top 32 accomplices ready to action, bombs in backpacks, and the use nerve gas.
The threat, Bratten said, “… mirrors recent episodes of ‘Homeland,'” a Showtime series about a CIA agent battling terrorism on American soil.
New York Mayor Bill De Blasio described the writing in the note as “ridiculous.”
Ramon Cortines, superintendent of the Unified Los Angeles School District, made the decision to close schools because he wanted to err on the side of safety, he said.
“Based on the circumstances, I could not put our students or staff members in danger,” he said.
Cortines said several hours after the school closure that plant managers and law enforcement officials continued to walk school grounds to make sure no danger was present.
Many of his district’s 640,000 students had not yet arrived at school. Students were stopped at school gates until they could be picked up or return home safely, Cortines said. Mass transit systems were asked to give students free passage home since many parents are unable to leave their jobs.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, perhaps anticipating criticism for the school closures, said a decision needed to be made in a matter of minutes, and the recent terrorist attack in nearby San Bernardino had heightened awareness of the need for safety.
“We hope to learn this is nothing, and have the children back in school tomorrow,” he said. “An abundance of caution is something we continue to appreciate.”