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Iowa officials say false school shooting reports in 30 communities were 'swatting' hoax

DPS commissioner steve bayens speaks at a news conference
Katarina Sostaric
IPR News
Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Steve Bayens discussed 'swatting' targeting Iowa schools Tuesday.

About 30 communities in Iowa were targeted Tuesday by false reports of school shootings, according to state officials.

Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Steve Bayens said it appeared to be a hoax known as “swatting.”

“The design of it is to create confusion and chaos,” he said. “It’s to suck up law enforcement resources to try to draw a large law enforcement presence to a school even though there is no active threat. By all accounts, and for all intents and purposes, it appears thus far that that’s what Iowa is experiencing today.”

At a news conference Tuesday morning, Bayens said the first false report to law enforcement came early Tuesday and targeted Clinton High School. He said several law enforcement agencies responded to the school and found no active threats.

Very similar calls followed about other schools, progressing from east to west across the state. Bayens said Cedar Rapids, North Liberty, Iowa City, Davenport, Muscatine, Cerro Gordo County, Story County, Polk County and Creston were some of the affected locations.

He said all the calls may be from one source, as the voice and content of the calls is all the same.

“It is a unique voice. It’s not a modulated voice,” Bayens said. “It’s a voice that’s recognizable because of accent and those sorts of things. And so unless that person was recording it and then just replaying it—it appears it’s one after the other—it’s cascading rather than kind of a shotgun approach and flooding it simultaneously.”

He said other states have faced similar incidents in recent months.

Bayens said this appeared to be a more technologically sophisticated “swatting” incident that can make it very difficult to find the source of the call. He said the calls may have come from a different country.

Gov. Kim Reynolds was also at the news conference, which was initially announced Monday and was planned to launch a new program for anonymously reporting potential threatsof school violence. She said her chief of staff informed her of the school shooting reports when she got to the office Tuesday morning.

“It’s what no governor, it’s what no parent or anybody—superintendent, teachers, kids—wants to hear,” Reynolds said. “And we’re grateful and just so thankful that [swatting is] what it was.”

Bayens said the new program includes two-way instant communication with dispatchers when Iowans submit tips. He said other states have found that reduces false reporting.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter