KALISPELL — Threats sent via email and text closed all but two schools in Flathead County Thursday, including the Flathead Valley Community College.
The threats started with the Columbia Falls school district and eventually spread throughout the evening and early morning hours to others.
The Flathead Sheriff’s Office, Columbia Falls Police Department and FBI worked through the night to investigate the threats and are continuing to follow up on leads. They have identified and are speaking with persons of interest, according to Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry.
Additional law enforcement patrols around schools were taking place Thursday.
The threats followed news of a school shooting in Spokane that killed one student and injured others.
“It’s kind of strange,” Flathead Valley Superintendent of Schools Jack Eggensperger said. “You have to wonder if it’s not some kind of copycat who used that incident as a license to do something like this.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Flathead County detective division at 758-5610.
Eggensperger said he was contacted about 10 p.m. Wednesday by the Columbia Falls superintendent with the announcement that schools in that community would close due to a threat generated through a text message.
Since then Eggensperger learned that other schools received similar threats. The threats were general in nature against the schools rather than being directed toward any specific individuals.
“It’s really sad,” Eggensperger said. “This will impact thousands of kids, teachers and parents who have to find day care for their children just because some weirdo hit the send button without any thought of the disruptions that would be caused by it.”
The only two schools not affected by the closures were Pleasant Valley and Smith Valley, he said.
Last year, there were 15,774 students enrolled in the public school system in Flathead Valley.
Eggensperger said it will be up to individual school districts to determine when schools will reopen.
In a letter to parents, Whitefish School Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt said school administrators in Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Whitefish received the anonymous threats via text message and email.
“Many threats directed at schools are made with the intent of disrupting education,” Davis Schmidt wrote. “Threats like these breed fear, anxiety and frustration for us all. While the vast majority of these threats turn out to be hoaxes, they have to be investigated and taken seriously. The safety and welfare of our students and staff is our highest priority.”
All school activities and athletics were also canceled.