Baylor one of many schools affected by active shooter hoax across Texas, nation

By Luke Lattanzi | Staff Writer, Kaity Kempf | LTVN Reporter

Baylor was one of several schools in Texas struck with an active shooting hoax Thursday. The university sent out a text and an email around 10 a.m. notifying the campus community about a false 911 call alleging an active shooter on campus.

“Around 9:45 a.m., Baylor Police responded to a call to Waco law enforcement alleging an active shooter at the ITS building on the Baylor campus,” the alert stated.

For some, the alert sparked confusion about where exactly the suspected active shooting was. Specifically, the “ITS building” does not actually exist, as Information Technology Services is spread throughout various locations on campus.

Initial alert notifications, according to Baylor Spokesperson Lori Fogleman, are communicated by emergency communications staff.

Encinitas, Calif., sophomore Amelia Shelhamer was in her Spanish class when she received word of the active shooter hoax, and her class went on lockdown as a result. She said she also felt confused due to other classes not reacting to the notification at all.

“I was a little scared,” Shelhamer said. “I was texting some friends from other classes and no one else seemed to be on lockdown, so I was a little bit confused, but also just scared for what might happen next and what it was going to look like.”

Shelhamer said she felt scared due to her class going on lockdown, even though someone had told them that there was no active threat on campus. The Baylor campus was also not put on lockdown.

“We were just doing normal Spanish class and someone kind of burst into the class and was like, ‘Everyone needs to turn the lights off and sit down and keep quiet. We’re not sure what’s going on there’s not an active threat but we just need to stay safe,’ and everyone was freaking out a little bit,” Shelhamer said.

The 911 call was received by the Waco Police Department at around 9:30 a.m.

“Waco PD and Baylor PD responded, determining the call was a hoax and there was no active threat on campus,” Cierra Shipley, Waco PD spokesperson, said via email.

According to Fogleman, first responders were able to determine that the 911 call was a hoax due to the university’s multi-layered security system, which, in addition to a fast law enforcement response time, also contains a vast array of security cameras.

“There was no threat to our campus, and that determination was made quickly by law enforcement,” Fogleman said. “Not only from Baylor police who were on the scene in two minutes, but also by Baylor [Department of Public Safety]. Technical security swiftly used its network of security cameras for immediate visibility into the building that was from the initial phone call to Waco PD, showing no active threat.”

Baylor was one of several schools throughout Texas dealing with active shooter hoaxes Thursday. This phenomenon is typically referred to as “swatting.”

Swatting is when a person calls 911 falsely alleging a serious threat, such as a bombing or shooting, in an attempt to trigger a large law enforcement response, such as the deployment of a SWAT team. Swatting is typically intended to evoke mass panic and fear.

“I think what we saw as the situation quickly developed here … is that this was part of a series of swatting calls at more than a dozen universities around Texas and the country today,” Fogleman said. “Unfortunately, it’s something that appears to be somewhat of a trend.”

In addition to the shooting hoax at Baylor, similar 911 calls were also made at Collin College in Plano, Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth and Texas A&M in College Station.

Earlier this month, other schools across the country also dealt with active shooter hoaxes. On April 3, Rider University in Lawrence Township, N.J., was told to shelter in place for almost an hour after a 911 call was made alleging an active shooter threat. The shelter-in-place order was later lifted after authorities determined it to be a swatting hoax.

A similar incident occurred on April 7 when a swatting hoax call alleging an active shooter threat was called in at the University of Oklahoma. So far, authorities have not linked the cases together or named any suspects of the hoax calls, according to NBCDFW.

Fogleman also said the university has already identified errors in how it communicated the shooting hoax to the Baylor community.

“We are constantly assessing and reassessing our security posture at the university,” Fogleman said. “It is always our practice to improve communications. For example, even though law enforcement determined there was no active threat and this was a hoax, better identifying buildings and locations and communications to campus, that’s one takeaway that we have from today.”