JOHNSTON – Threatening text messages kept students home from Johnston schools on Tuesday.
A lot of the threatening texts were personal, with childrens’ names and addresses incorporated into them. Police say they do not believe there is a credible threat to the Johnston Community School District. The superintendent says classes will be delayed for two hours on Wednesday, but they will be in session. Still, it was a frightening day for everyone in the Johnston area.
Students and parents in Johnston are really shaken up. Several of them received threatening messages, starting Monday night. Police are not going into too much detail right now about what they have uncovered in their investigation. And while they do not believe there is a credible threat, they still want everyone to be on alert.
One message sent on Monday night threatens to target every school in the area. Another message states that students will be killed. One eighth grade student from Johnston cannot believe messages like these were sent to fellow students and families in his school district.
“It makes me feel a little bit unsafe and just like anything can happen,” the student, who we are not naming, said. “It’s creepy. I wouldn’t say I’m scared because I know that police, they’ll take care of it. It’s still really serious and I think it’s just creepy.”
Parents are also still processing the disturbing messages, saying they were caught off guard by the violent words.
“I was just shocked. I mean it was not something that you expect to happen in your own community. I think that’s too close to home,” said Johnston resident, Katie Nadler, who is also the mother of a JCSD student.
Johnston Police say the threats started coming in Monday evening around 8 p.m. through texts from the number 818-275-6848. Each message was personal and different. Police are still investigating who is sending these threats, but they say they are not substantive.
“At this time, we cannot substantiate any credible or imminent threats to any of our schools, students, parents or staff,” said Johnston Police Chief Dennis McDaniel. “We believe it’s very likely that these messages will continue and it’s very likely that they will come from a new number of a different series of numbers.”
Still, Johnston Community Schools cancelled classes on Tuesday, and they have already scheduled a two-hour delay on Wednesday to allow police to perform a security sweep of all schools.
“This is a tough decision. It’s not something we take lightly, but at the end of the day, our first priority is to keep students and staff safe and I believe we did that today,” said Johnston Community School District Superintendent Corey Lunn.
Students and parents are thankful officials are working hard to keep them safe, and just want an end to the uncertainty.
“I trust them to do what’s best for our community,” said one Johnston student.
“I have a lot of faith in the authorities and in the administrators and the people who are handling these situations, anything can happen, but I feel like we’re in good hands,” said Nadler.
Police say they are still very busy right now looking into these threats. They are working with the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and other local police departments as well. Students in Johnston will resume classes after the two-hour delay on Wednesday but there will be an extra police presence at all school buildings to make sure everyone is safe.
Local 5 called the number those texts came from. However, when you dial it, nothing happens. A voice comes on and says “call rejected,” and then silence.
Many people have been wondering all day, how did something like this happen? Some say the way to get all that information, children’s names, addresses and phone numbers is a sign the system was hacked. Experts say it is probably not all that sophisticated.
“It’s likely not a sophisticated hacking situation, and probably more individual negligence so if we’re all careful with our passwords and our devices, and we’re all making sure that we’re using different passwords on every site, and password managers to help protect that, that will be helpful,” said Alanah Mitchell, associate professor at Drake University.
Other districts around the area have been keeping a close eye on what was happening in Johnston. According to police, there have not been any threats made to students in those districts. Police want people to watch out for anything unusual. If you get a text message from 818-275-6848, please screenshot it and email it to Johnston Police at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also include the person’s phone number in that email.
Stay with Local 5 for any updates on this story as they become available.