Montana DOJ discusses recent threats and hoaxes

School Crossing
Posted at 6:02 PM, Jan 17, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-17 20:02:00-05

HELENA — Authorities say threats emailed to numerous school districts around Montana Tuesday night turned out to be a hoax. It’s just the latest round of unsubstantiated mass threats that have gone out to institutions in the state.

Bryan Lockerby, administrator of the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, says it’s important to take any threat seriously – and law enforcement in the state is doing exactly that. However, he said these incidents also show how the internet has made it easier for people to disrupt school or government operations with hoaxes.

“Any entity where they can target and they can scrape email addresses and elevate some level of anxiety, create a public safety response – as you saw, we know that some schools closed because of the threat – they consider themselves successful and having accomplished their goal,” he said.

Two weeks ago, the Montana State Capitol was briefly evacuated after it was one of several state capitols targeted by an emailed bomb threat. Lockerby said another round of threats went out to Montana courts after that, along with similar threats to some churches and now to school districts. He said they all follow a similar pattern.

“I think any time someone receives a bomb threat of any kind, they need to look at the circumstances where they are and how the threat was received,” said Lockerby. “For example, a telephoned, specific, in-person threat is probably going to be much more credible than one that was emailed to multiple locations, which is extremely vague, doesn't leave any kind of identifiers. But yet again, parents have entrusted school administrators to protect their children when they're at school, and school administrators have to make a decision on what's best for that organization, the school and the students.”

Lockerby says investigators believe many of these anonymous threats are coming from outside the U.S.

DCI plans to hold online meetings with local law enforcement in the coming days, to talk about possible recommendations they can give to community leaders, schools and other organizations about this type of threat.

“Everybody's response is going to be a little bit different, but I really do think that internally we need to talk about this, because all of us are faced with these challenges around the state,” Lockerby said.

He says DCI has a good relationship with law enforcement across Montana, and they’ve previously held meetings like this during situations like the COVID pandemic, to make sure agencies are all on the same page.