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].”
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.”
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.