Wisconsin’s fake ‘swatting’ threats part of an unexplained national trend

MADISON, Wis. — At least sixteen schools across Wisconsin were targeted on Thursday with calls claiming a shooter had injured multiple students — calls that in every instance were false, and bore striking similarities.

The attacks are just the latest in more than two dozen states targeted with similar sprees of calls since September, called “swatting” as it can involve an area’s SWAT team resources. In September, Minnesota had more than two dozen schools targeted; some states like Texas, California and Florida have been targeted multiple times.

RELATED: Fake school shooting calls reported in Madison, around Wisconsin

The National Association of School Resource Officers is tracking local news headlines chronicling the phenomenon, sharing a document with News 3 Now listing dozens of headlines starting in mid-September and continuing through today. They estimate 28 states and Washington D.C. have been hit, mostly with a string of calls similar to others — other times, by students or “copycat” actors.

Many of the calls, including those on Thursday in Wisconsin, bear a striking resemblance. Scanner traffic in Dane County reacting to a fake threat to Madison East High School described the caller’s “middle eastern” accent as a man said forty students had been shot.

In Stevens Point, police described a “male with a thick accent” who had placed the call. A man with a thick accent is noted by police and in calls obtained by local media around the country.

“There’s been some consistency in a lot of these,” NASRO executive director Mo Canady said. “A thick accent; seems to be reading from a script.”

Some law enforcement agencies have traced the IP address of the call to Ethopia or more generally an Africa location. (IP addresses can be faked, and voices can be altered.) The FBI hasn’t confirmed whether these strings of calls are linked, and have issued statements in many of the states simply noting they’re helping with the investigation.

“I think there’s some reason to believe they’re connected,” Canady said.

In Wisconsin, the calls started in southeastern Wisconsin in Milwaukee and Kenosha earlier in the school day. It wasn’t until a bit later–around 10:45–that Madison East was hit. Later, around 11:30, the calls went to Stevens Point.

The calls have become so common that NASRO has released guidance for schools and resource officers about how to handle them: for starters, by responding as if it is still a real threat until its lack of credibility has been established.