NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) –New York City school officials received a similar terror threat early Tuesday to the one that prompted the closure of the Los Angeles school system for the day, but police quickly concluded that it was a hoax.
All schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District were ordered closed Tuesday due to the threat. As CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco reported, students will return to class on Wednesday.
The threat came as an email Monday night to board members of the Los Angeles Unified School District, and threatened an attack with assault rifles on “every school” with “bombs hidden in backpacks and lockers.”
New York officials, however, kept schools open. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton called the move in Los Angeles a “significant overreaction” and said the decision there was made before school officials consulted with the Los Angeles Police Department.
“We do believe … that this is in fact a hoax, and we will investigate it as such,” Bratton said. “We cannot allow ourselves to raise levels of fear.”
He said further that it appeared that the school system acted on its own without consulting local police.
Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters that he was “absolutely convinced” there was no danger to schoolchildren in his city, saying there was “nothing credible about the threat.”
“Based on the information that we have, this was a very generic piece of writing sent to a number of different places simultaneously and also written in a fashion that suggests that it’s not plausible, and we’ve come to the conclusion that we must continue to keep our school system open,” de Blasio said. “In fact, it’s very important not to overreact in situations like this.”
De Blasio said there was “nothing credible about the threat. It was so generic, so outlandish, and posed to numerous school systems simultaneously.”
Bratton said a New York superintendent received the threat early Tuesday morning. He said it appears the communication came from Frankfurt, Germany, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
At a town hall meeting Tuesday night, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the NYPD was contacted immediately after receiving the email.
“The mayor, Bratton and myself made a joint decision to keep schools open,” Fariña said. “Safety is my first priority under all circumstances, but we felt very confident this was the right thing to do.”
The email said the writer and “138 comrades” would carry out the attack. It said, “The students at every school in the New York City school district will be massacred, mercilessly. And there is nothing you can do to stop it.”
The anonymous writer claimed to be a student at a district high school who had been bullied.
A law enforcement official with access to the document provided the email to The Associated Press. The official wasn’t authorized to disclose details of an ongoing investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The NYPD began an immediate investigation with the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the FBI. Bratton said one indication that the email was a hoax is that Allah was not spelled with a capital “A.”
“The language in the email would lead us to believe that this is not a jihadist initiative,” he said. ” … That would be incredible to think that any jihadist would not spell Allah with a capital ‘A.'”
Bratton, who once ran the LAPD, quipped that it looked like the sender watched a lot of the Showtime series “Homeland.”
Parents picking up their kids at school Tuesday told CBS2 they had faith in New York authorities.
“From what I heard, they said it wasn’t a credible threat, so I have to hope that the people that are running the school system are in fact looking out for the best interest of our kids,” said Tim Haugh.
“I believe when they say that it’s not credible, and I had no problem sending my child to school,” said Melissa Tellez.
But given the terrorist attack less than two weeks ago in nearby San Bernardino, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti defended the decision not to take any chances.
“We’ve just gone through a horrible experience of losing loved ones; of seeing that sort of horror right here in our backyard,” Garcetti told CBS News.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck also said Tuesday that he stood behind the order to close schools as a precaution.
“I would say this to people that are critical: It is very easy in hindsight to criticize a decision based on results that the decider could never have known,” Beck said. “It’s also very easy to criticize a decision when you have no responsibility for the outcome of that decision.”
While schools in New York City are controlled by the mayor, the L.A. Unified School District is its own entity, run by a superintendent. Parents in New York were confident that city officials did the right thing.
Officials said it was a tough decision, but the safety of students and employees was their main concern.
Authorities, however, are now worried about copycats.
“I understand the concern they had in Los Angeles, but the danger is if you give into a threat like this and it really is unfounded, it encourage more hoax threats,” said U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence and Terrorism.
Los Angeles schools Superintendent Ramon Cortines said schools would remain closed until the threat was cleared, which officials said could happen by the end of the day.
Cortines said the Dec. 2 attack in nearby San Bernardino that left 14 people dead influenced the decision.
A law enforcement source told CBS News the email sent to members of the L.A. school board was lengthy and sometimes rambling.
“Every school in Los Angeles school district is being targeted,” the email read. “We have bombs hidden in backpacks in lockers at several schools and they are strategically placed to crumble the foundations of the very buildings that monger so much hate.
“There are pressure cookers hidden in backpacks loaded with 20 pounds of gunpowder for maximum damage,” it also said. “They will detonate via cell phone.”
Beck said the email, too, referenced assault rifles and machine pistols.
“I am Muslim and I’ve teamed up with a local jihadist cell,” the email said. “Me and my 32 comrades will die tomorrow.”
The source said the message was sent through an “onion router,” which made it appear as if it was sent from Germany, but it’s unclear if that is the actual origin or not.
Cortines, who served as chancellor of New York City schools in the 1990s, said Los Angeles’ schools commonly receive threats, but he called this one rare. He said the district police chief informed him about the threat shortly after 5 a.m.
The district has 640,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade and more than 900 schools and 187 public charter schools.
The district spans 720 square miles, including Los Angeles and all or part of more than 30 smaller cities and some unincorporated areas.
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