A "Level One" terror threat closed the entire Los Angeles Unified School District this morning. All 938 campuses plus all 187 charter schools were included. The district serves over half a million students, many of them enroute to school when the decision was announced. All are being told to stay home today. The move is being called unprecedented for the nation's second-largest public school system.
The threat arrived at approximately 11 PM local time last night at the email address of an LAUSD board member. It is not yet clear if there were follow-up messages or if the district superintendent also received the threat message directly.
Beverley Hills, Burbank, and Glendale—all surrounded by LAUSD territory—each operate independent school districts and decided not to close their schools, feeling the threat was not directed toward their students or campuses.
The electronic message was sent by someone claiming to be "an extremist Muslim" and contains wide-ranging threats against public schools. And there it gets curious. Beverley Hills, Burbank, and Glendale—all surrounded by LAUSD territory—each operate independent school districts and decided not to close their schools, feeling the threat was not directed toward their students or campuses.
The "same kind of threat," possibly the identical message, was received by New York City school officials, who indicated in a press conference that "school districts across the country," specifically "those in large cities," received "the same threat."
NYPD Chief William Bratton, who has served as LAPD Chief, told reporters, "We do not believe this is credible. We believe Los Angeles is overreacting."
Bratton explained, "There are a number of indications this threat is a hoax. 'Allah' is not spelled with a capital 'A.' It is unthinkable that 'Allah' would not be spelled with a capital 'A.'”
Nonetheless, an unnamed L.A. official expressed, "You get threats all the time. This one stood out."
Initial statements from the L.A. mayor's office claim the decision to close all schools in the sprawling district "was reached in accord with federal authorities," yet later statements cite the school district's superintendent as "the final authority."
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti says, "All of us parents, all of us as public officials, should use an abundance of caution. We pledged the full support of LAPD to working with the school district, even though this is ultimately their decision. So if nothing else, this is a good exercise. It's important that all of us lead our lives, but in the aftermath of San Bernardino, we concur in not taking chances."
Texas Republican Congressman Mike McCaul, as chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, purportedly gets prompt information about terrorist activities. He was saying, before the Associated Press reported it, that all the threat messages had been traced to the same IP (internet) address in Germany. Others later narrowed that to Bremen, before the point of origin became Frankfurt.
McCaul praised the L.A. decision as "responsible" and "prudent," without indulging in the overt fear-mongering common to his party.
Just after 10 AM, LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines, clad in a black sweatshirt and yellow ball cap, held a press briefing. He was flanked by Mayor Garcetti in a suit and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck in uniform, both of whom also spoke. The superintendent's themes were "a thorough investigation and site inspections at all our schools," and an emphasis on "child safety."
The mayor spoke of the San Bernardino tragedy and the importance of "being vigilant — if you see something, say something," and inevitably, unity among city officials.
Chief Beck and L.A. Sheriff Jim McDonald hinted at resentment of the New York assertion that L.A. "overreacted" to the threat made to both city's schools. In L.A., the FBI has been brought in to the investigation.
California Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman represents an area centered in the San Fernando Valley that includes LAUSD turf. Sherman has disclosed his own role after getting a look at the email sent to the L.A. school district. He may have been influential in the superintendent's school closure decision. He expressed "real alarm" over specific content in the threat email, which he cited as:
- it was purported to come from "an extreme Muslim jihadist," despite its inconsistencies.
- an "odd body part" was referenced in a term that a Muslim typically would not use.
- the threat specified various different actions including bombs in backpacks and a "nerve agent."
Does that support the L.A. alarm or the New York dismissal? The day's investigations of school facilities and by authorities in Europe should offer more light. Meanwhile, there will be no shortage of heat, given the Republican presidential candidates debate tonight in Las Vegas, late afternoon, Pacific time. After San Bernardino, the theme was already re-set to terrorism and national security, and the Republican base is strongly inclined to fear-based thinking.