Wave of bomb threats causes evacuations, anxiety nationwide

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By Daniella Silva

A wave of bomb threats were reported Thursday against businesses, schools, hospitals and other places across the country — causing panic and evacuations, although all appeared to be hoaxes.

Police in cities nationwide reported threats, some emailed, some phoned in.

The FBI in a statement said they were “aware of the recent bomb threats made in cities around the country, and we remain in touch with our law enforcement partners to provide assistance. As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activities which could represent a threat to public safety.”

Authorities in New York City were monitoring “multiple bomb threats that have been sent electronically to various locations throughout the city,” the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism bureau said on Twitter.

“These threats are also being reported to other locations nationwide & are NOT considered credible at this time,” the NYPD said.

A sheriff’s department deputy stands guard outside the main driveway to Columbine High School after a bomb threat on Dec. 13, 2018.David Zalubowski / AP

New York police later said on Twitter that there was an “email being circulated containing a bomb threat asking for bitcoin payment” but that no devices had been found.

Police added it appeared the threats were “meant to cause disruption and/or obtain money.”

At this time, it appears that these threats are meant to cause disruption and/or obtain money. We’ll respond to each call regarding these emails to conduct a search but we wanted to share this information so the credibility of these threats can be assessed as likely NOT CREDIBLE.

— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) December 13, 2018

Students were evacuated from the Bronx High School of Science at 11 a.m. Thursday after it received a bomb threat by phone, according to NBC New York, and the school said students were being “well supervised at neighboring schools.”

In New York State, Nassau County police said they responded to 12 emailed bomb threats.

A spokesman for the Oklahoma City Police Department said there were 10 to 13 email bomb threats with specific addresses in and around the city. The spokesperson said police were investigating all of the threats but they had not found anything serious so far.

A police officer removes police tape along California Street in San Francisco on Dec. 13, 2018. Authorities say bomb threats sent to dozens of schools, universities and other locations across the U.S. appear to be a hoax. Jeff Chiu / AP

In Massachusetts, state police said on Twitter that it bomb squad unit was responding to “multiple bomb threats emailed to numerous businesses in the state.”

“Similar threats have been received in other states,” the state police said.

The police said in a later tweet that authorities were conducting risk assessments and there were no indications “of any explosives located or detonated to this point.”

Separately, Boston police said in a statement they had confirmed an emailed bomb threat to the Boston Opera House.

In Florida, the Orlando Police Department said in a statement it was aware of emailed threats to local business and across the country. A spokesperson for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office also said it had received threats to several businesses throughout the county.

“We are assisting federal law enforcement in its investigation,” police said.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, a false bomb threat was made against Columbine High School, causing the school and 28 others nearby to be placed on “lockout,” according to Jefferson County Public Schools. On Thursday morning, a caller claimed to have “multiple explosive devices” inside the school, Mike Taplin with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, said according to NBC affiliate. WSAV.

In San Francisco, police said they also responded to reports of bomb threats at numerous locations.

Employees at a Jewish Community Center and multiple branches of the Fire Credit Union in San Francisco were evacuated after reports of emailed bomb threats, NBC Bay Area reported.

At least two dozen threats were being tracked in Los Angeles, law enforcement sources told NBCLA. Also in Southern California, police received a report of a possible bomb threat that was emailed to a Redondo Beach business in the 3700 block of Redondo Beach Boulevard. The building was evacuated, according to police.

Jefferson County Sheriff respond to a bomb threat at Columbine High School, in Colorado, on Dec. 13, 2018.NBC News

Police in the Chicago area said they were also addressing multiple bomb threats.

The South Elgin, Illinois, Police Department said it received a report of an emailed bomb threat at a business, saying the company was supposed to send “$20,000.00 to a bitcoin account by the end of the business day in order to stop the alleged threat.”

Police said they then became aware of other threats to businesses in the area. The incident is believed to be a phishing scam, they said.

The Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora, Illinois, tweeted that it had also received an emailed bomb threat that was later deemed not credible by authorities.

The Cincinnati Police Department said in a statement Thursday afternoon that it was monitoring multiple bomb threats sent electronically to various locations throughout the city.

Police in Washington, D.C., Norfolk, Virginia, and Frederick, Maryland, said they were also investigating multiple reports of bomb threats.

A police officer walks in an intersection closed off by police tape on California Street in San Francisco on Dec. 13, 2018. Jeff Chiu / AP

Police in the nation’s capital said threats were reported at five locations, according to NBC Washington.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said authorities “have no knowledge” that anyone paid bitcoin to the sender as a a result of the bomb threats.

Dan Leahy, an IT professional in Colorado who manages websites for several companies, told NBC News that the firms whose tech infrastructure he manages received a “flood” of the bomb threats from 12:56 p.m. ET until 1:07 p.m. He estimated the companies in total received about 40 of the threats, which were almost identical.

“We talked to our VP of safety. Even though we knew this was crap, we have to do that, just in case there’s one legitimate bomb going off in one office,” said Leahy.

Leahy believes some of the emails were able to slip through because they came from email addresses with what he called “clean” records, or email accounts that likely had been phished and hacked. He said the emails came from verified domains of non-malicious websites, like law firms and construction companies.

The “clean” domain records, partnered with emails that didn’t include an attachment, allowed the emails to bypass spam filters.

“I’ve been in IT for years and I’ve seen a ton of these scams, but I’ve never seen a bomb threat,” said Leahy.

Daniella Silva is a reporter for NBC News. She started at NBCNews.com in September of 2013.

Pete Williams, Ben Collins and Andrew Blankstein contributed.

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