Gun and bomb attack threat closes Los Angeles schools in likely hoax

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LAUSD Terror Threat Tied To IP Address In Germany

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -- Los Angeles shut more than 1,000 public schools on Tuesday over a threatened attack with bombs and assault rifles, sending hundreds of thousands of students home as city leaders were criticized for over reacting to what federal officials later said was likely a hoax.

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The emailed threat, which authorities said was "routed through Germany" but likely more local in origin, came less than two weeks after a married couple inspired by Islamic State killed 14 people and wounded 22 others at a county office building in San Bernardino, just 60 miles (100 km) away.

"Based on past circumstance, I could not take the chance," Los Angeles School Superintendent Ramon Cortines said at a news conference.

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Gun and bomb attack threat closes Los Angeles schools in likely hoax
A police officer puts up yellow tape to close the school, as a student walks past, outside of Edward Roybal High School in Los Angeles, on Tuesday morning, Dec. 15, 2015. All schools in the vast Los Angeles Unified SchoolDistrict, the nation's second largest, have been ordered closed due to an electronic threat Tuesday. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
Los Angeles School District buses are parked at their bus garage in Gardena, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. The nation's second-largest school district shut down Tuesday after a school board member received an emailed threat that raised fears of another attack like the deadly shooting in nearby San Bernardino. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Los Angeles Unified School District bus driver waits by her bus parked at the bus garage in Gardena, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. All Los Angeles area public schools were shut down Tuesday after a after a school board member received an emailed threat that raised fears of another attack like the deadly shooting in nearby San Bernardino. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
A police officer puts up yellow tape to close the school outside of Edward Roybal High School in Los Angeles, on Tuesday morning, Dec. 15, 2015. All schools in the vast Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest, have been ordered closed due to an electronic threat Tuesday. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

School board member Monica Garcia speaks to media after officials closed all Los Angeles Unified School District due to an electronic threat, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 in Los Angeles. Officials would not elaborate on the threat, saying it was still being evaluated, but said the shutdown came as a precaution. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

A lock holds the gate shut at Edward Roybal High School in Los Angeles, on Tuesday morning, Dec. 15, 2015. All schools in the vast Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest, have been ordered closed due to an electronic threat Tuesday. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
A police car is parked outside of Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. All schools in the vast Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest, have been ordered closed due to an electronic threat Tuesday.(AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Los Angeles Unified School District buses stand idle in Gardena, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. All Los Angeles area public schools were shut down Tuesday after a after a school board member received an emailed threat that raised fears of another attack like the deadly shooting in nearby San Bernardino. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
A vehicle leaves the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex past a sign "No School Go Home" is displayed Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. All schools in the vast Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest, have been ordered closed due to an electronic threat Tuesday.(AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
A police car is parked outside of Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. All schools in the vast Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest, have been ordered closed due to an electronic threat Tuesday.(AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
School board member Monica Garcia speaks to media after officials closed all Los Angeles Unified School District due to an electronic threat, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 in Los Angeles. Officials would not elaborate on the threat, saying it was still being evaluated, but said the shutdown came as a precaution. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
School board member Monica Garcia , right with Los Angeles school police Chief Steve Zipperman speaks to media after officials closed all Los Angeles Unified School District campuses due to an electronic threat, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 in Los Angeles. Officials would not elaborate on the threat, saying it was still being evaluated, but said the shutdown came as a precaution. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Los Angeles School District bus drivers gather at a bus garage in Gardena, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. All Los Angeles area public schools were shut down Tuesday after a after a school board member received an emailed threat that raised fears of another attack like the deadly shooting in nearby San Bernardino. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Los Angeles School District bus drivers walk by their parked vehicles at a bus garage in Gardena, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. All Los Angeles area public schools were shut down Tuesday after a after a school board member received an emailed threat that raised fears of another attack like the deadly shooting in nearby San Bernardino. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Los Angeles School District bus drivers walk away from their buses parked at a bus garage in Gardena, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. All Los Angeles area public schools were shut down Tuesday after a after a school board member received an emailed threat that raised fears of another attack like the deadly shooting in nearby San Bernardino. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
A sign indicates students that the school is closed at the Ramon Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning, Dec. 15, 2015. The nation's second-largest school district shut down Tuesday after a school board member received an emailed threat that raised fears of another attack like the deadly shooting in nearby San Bernardino. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

Los Angeles Unified School District buses remain locked at their bus garage in Gardena, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. All Los Angeles area public schools were shut down Tuesday after a after a school board member received an emailed threat that raised fears of another attack like the deadly shooting in nearby San Bernardino. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

A sign indicates students that the school is closed at the Ramon Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts inLos Angeles on Tuesday morning, Dec. 15, 2015. All Los Angeles area public schools were shut down Tuesday after a after a school board member received an emailed threat that raised fears of another attack like the deadly shooting in nearby San Bernardino. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
A Los Angeles School District bus blocks the entrance to a bus garage in Gardena, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. All Los Angeles area public schools were shut down Tuesday after a after a school board member received an emailed threat that raised fears of another attack like the deadly shooting in nearby San Bernardino. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Police officers explain to a parent and her son that his school was closed for the day at Edward Roybal High Schoolin Los Angeles, on Tuesday morning, Dec. 15, 2015. All schools in the vast Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest, have been ordered closed due to an electronic threat Tuesday. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
Police officers turn arriving parents and students away from a closed Edward Roybal High School in Los Angeles, on Tuesday morning, Dec. 15, 2015. All schools in the vast Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest, have been ordered closed due to an electronic threat Tuesday. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
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But federal officials, who asked not to be identified, echoed an assessment by New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton that the decision in Los Angeles was an "overreaction." New York had received an almost identical threat that was quickly deemed not credible.

After more than 1,500 school district sites had been inspected by nightfall, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti conceded that the message appeared to have been a hoax.

"We can now announce the FBI has determined that this is not a credible threat," Garcetti said, adding that the incident required further investigation but "what we do know is, it will be safe for our children return to school tomorrow.

Despite that determination, Garcetti and Police Chief Charlie Beck stood by the decision to close the schools. They said New York officials had more time to assess the threat, which was sent to both districts from the same IP address.

Watch more coverage:
Where Did the Threat Come from?

But the unprecedented move at the second-largest public school system in the United States left some 643,000 students and their families scrambling to cope and drew criticism.

City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who has two children in LAUSD schools, complained about the lack of a timely district-wide emergency alert system, pointing out that many students learned of the closures from their friends via social media.

"I disagree with closing the schools because we're just showing these people that we're scared of them," said Marisol Hadadi, whose son attends Marquez Elementary School in Pacific Palisades.

Ronna Bronstein, who has two sons in grade school, said she was trying to find out more while shielding her younger child from the news.

"I don't want him to be frightened to go back to school tomorrow," she said.

A 17-year-old boy was walking to his charter high school when he was struck and killed by a truck at 7:31 a.m., officials said, minutes after LAUSD said classes would be canceled for the day.

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A law enforcement source told Reuters that Los Angeles authorities ordered the closure to allow a full search of public school facilities without consulting with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which typically takes the lead on investigations into potential terrorism.

New York's Bratton, a former Los Angeles police chief, said: "To disrupt the daily schedules of half a million school children, their parents, day care, buses based on an anonymous email, without consultation, if in fact, consultation did not occur with law enforcement authorities, I think it was a significant overreaction."

Mayor Garcetti denied that assertion, saying his city had contacted federal law enforcement officials.

'32 JIHADIST FRIENDS'

Congressman Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California, told the New York Times that the writer of the email threat claimed to be a devout Muslim prepared to launch an attack using bombs, nerve gas and rifles with "32 jihadist friends" because he had been bullied at a Los Angeles high school.

Sherman told the paper that the number of attackers and claim to have nerve gas cast doubts on the credibility of the email, as did its author consistently failing to capitalize the word "Allah."

"While we continue to gather information about the threat made against the Los Angeles and New York School Departments, the preliminary assessment is that it was a hoax or something designed to disrupt school districts in large cities," Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives intelligence committee, said in a statement.

See reactions to the threat on social media:

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Social Media: LAUSD 'credible' terror threat
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Gun and bomb attack threat closes Los Angeles schools in likely hoax
Students that have arrived at school will be with staff until parents or guardians can be contacted.
Superintendent: every school being searched by appropriate personnel.
Hope all parents/guardians of #LAUSD students got message to NOT send your kids to school today. SO grateful for this safety measure!!
But if there is a terrorist attack at my sons school I'ma stop doing comedy and basically turn into the Punisher MAX. That's why I work out.
BREAKING: Los Angeles schools closed after credible terror threat reported: local media
MORE: L.A. board of education president says teachers asked to stay home, urges employers to show maximum flexibility to parents.
All LAUSD schools closed after bomb threat called in to board member, police say https://t.co/oiNJk02qHA
#BREAKINGNEWS ALL #LAUSD schools closed today because of a "credible" terrorist threat! Details now live Ch5 @ktlamorningnews.
#LAUSD all buses are on lockdown and employees are on lockdown @latimes
Press conference coming soon on the situation with Los Angeles schools. https://t.co/jm2Xs3bL7i
#FoxAlert #LAUSD will hold a news conference about the "potential closure" of all schools due to "credible threat." @myfoxla
My kids are home, because L.A. schools are closed, due to a "credible terrorist threat." Shit, man, I miss snow days.
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Cortines, who is expected to retire at the end of 2015, said the threat stood out from most the district received in its seriousness and scope, referencing multiple campuses and mentioning backpacks and other packages.

"I have been around long enough to know that usually what people think in the first few hours is not what plays out in later hours," said the mayor, Garcetti. "But decisions have to be made in a matter of minutes."

Police Chief Beck said it was "irresponsible" to criticize the decision in the aftermath of the Dec. 2 attack in San Bernardino.

That massacre and other mass shootings have pushed the issues of militant Islamism and gun violence to the forefront of the U.S. presidential campaign.

In addition to Los Angeles, the district serves all or parts of 31 smaller towns and cities as well as several unincorporated parts of Southern California.

Watch more coverage:

Teacher Describes School's Response to Threat

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, Sara Catania, Sue Horton, Dana Feldman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Curtis Skinner in San Francisco, Daniel Wallis in Denver, Scott Malone in Boston, Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago and Mark Hosenball, Susan Heaveyand Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe,Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker)

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