Police responded to a call regarding an active shooter at Boulder High School on Feb. 22, 2023. Credit: John Herrick

This is a developing story. 

Early morning on Wednesday, Feb. 22, Boulder High School went into lockdown as the Boulder Police Department reported a possible active shooter situation. Creeping up on noon there was still no firm confirmation from the department on whether or not a shooter had been in the school, but suspicions of deceit were growing. Police officials confirmed no evidence of gun shots had been found and no injuries were reported. 

Multiple calls for active shooters had been placed at more than a dozen other schools across the state Wednesday in short succession, including in Alamosa, Aspen, Aurora, Brighton, Canon City, Durango, Englewood, Estes Park, Fort Morgan, Gilpin and Glenwood.

As the morning wore on, it became clear that the call setting Boulder High on lockdown was one of many “swatting” calls — where a crime, horrific enough to potentially involve a SWAT unit, is falsely called into a dispatch office. The calls appear to have been made in alphabetical order of the city and town names using a number from TextNow, a Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, app.

“I don’t want to call it a hoax until I meet personally with the federal partners that we have,” Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold said at a late morning press conference. “We’ll be putting something out as soon as information comes out. I don’t want to call it anything right now until I have confirmation after I talk to the FBI.” 

The shelter in place was lifted around 11 a.m. Boulder High was canceled for the day. 

The police chief explained the call triggering the lockdown was received by CU’s dispatch line at 8:33 this morning. The call was quickly routed to Boulder PD’s dispatch center.

The caller said they were outside Boulder High with semi-automatic weapons, ready to enter, according to the police chief. She said she heard what appeared to be the sound of “realistic” gun shots being fired in the background. 

“It’s the scariest 911 call you can get,” Herold said.

Within three minutes, officers were in the school making contact with security staff. Thanks to a delayed start, many students had not yet arrived, leaving 60-70 students inside to be evacuated of the more than 2,000 who are enrolled at the school.

Reports of possible bombs elongated the sweep of the school, as dogs were used to sniff items throughout, including backpacks discarded by evacuating students. At the time of the press conference, however, there was no evidence the caller had ever been in proximity of Boulder High.

Deputy Chief Stephen Redfearn said the police department will not clear a school threat until officers check every room, closet and the roof. He said if the weather were better, they would have flown drones around the school. 

“Especially with kids, out of an abundance of caution, we take it very slow and very seriously,” Redfearn said. “That’s why it sometimes seems like it is a long time.” 

Parents were told to go to Macky Auditorium on CU Boulder’s campus, just up the 17th Street hill from the high school, while officers continued to sweep the school. Buses brought students to Macky where they were reunited with parents at about 11 a.m.

“It’s a terrible situation to put students in,” Herold said. “I can’t imagine being a student [in this situation].”

Police Chief Maris Herold spoke during a news conference after officers responded to a call regarding an active shooter at Boulder High School on Feb. 22, 2023. Credit: John Herrick

Trauma for students

The incident came just three months after a shooter at Club Q in Colorado Springs killed five people. For Boulder, the lockdown arrives less than two years after a shooter killed 10 people in a King Soopers in South Boulder. And it is yet another reminder of the plethora of shootings that happen in U.S. schools, the most recent of national attention being the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old killed 19 students and two teachers. 

“I’m a nervous wreck. Shouldn’t have to be dealing with bullshit like this in America,” said a man standing outside the school, who said he was texting his daughter inside Boulder High. He rushed off to head to Macky shortly before students were escorted out of the school and into buses. “She said they think it’s a prank. I’m hoping that’s what it is.” 

The lockdown and subsequent evacuation is likely yet another traumatic event for students in a demographic where mental health is already deteriorating. The district trauma team has been activated to help students in need of “mental support.” 

Rates of depression and suicide among adolescents are increasing. In 2021, the U.S Surgeon General put forth a general advisory on the state of mental health in America’s youth.

The report cited, among other reasons for the youth mental health crisis, slow progress on “legitimate, and distressing issues like climate change, income inequality, racial injustice, the opioid epidemic and gun violence.” 

For those in need of mental health support, call 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or visit Colorado Crisis Services. You can also text TALK to 38255.

Correction: About 60-70 students were inside Boulder High at the time of the lockdown and were evacuated, not 200 as originally reported.

Tim Drugan is the climate and environment reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering wildfires, water and other related topics. He is also the lead writer of BRL Today, our morning newsletter. Email: tim@boulderreportinglab.org.

John Herrick is a reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. Email: john@boulderreportinglab.org.

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1 Comment

  1. As a grandparent sitting in New Jersey, reading emails and other accounts of what thankfully appears to be a hoax, was heart breaking. I knew my grandson was safe, as he was at an event in Denver, but for his friends, and their parents, the trauma they must have endured is beyond imaginable. What continues to be unconscionable is the total lack of appropriate response by the federal government, not state government, to attempt to get what has reached epidemic proportions under control. Arming guards at the front door of the school is not a solution, it is an aspirin to ease the pain, while the condition causing it continues with no end in sight. If Boulder, or Colorado had the toughest gun control laws available, it means nothing when someone can drive to another state, get the weapons they want, drive back and commit the heinous crimes we read about daily. The weapons that can kill multiple people in seconds need to be banned everywhere with the penalty for having them to be as egregious as the harm then can cause. Sadly, unless it is your child or family member, we get angry for a day, and then go back to doing nothing, and sending the same people back to Washington to continue doing nothing, until the next horror takes place. Between 1998 and 2019 the US has the most mass shootings of any country in the world at 101with a distant second being Russia at 21. How many more children have to die before someone with the power, and the backbone finally takes a stand. Show me that individual and they have my undying support.

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