A woman hugs a student outside Portland High School on Tuesday, after a hoax active shooter incident. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Schools across Maine were hit Tuesday morning with reports of active shooters that police and school officials said were hoaxes.

The reports hit schools from York to Aroostook counties, where emergency responders received similar 911 calls reporting that there was an armed gunman dressed in black in various locations around the schools. Schools in Sanford, Portland, Brewer, Belfast, Brunswick, Ellsworth, Fort Fairfield, Gardiner, Houlton and Rockland all received such reports, and many of them went into some form of a lockdown as a result.

Sanford received what appears to have been the first such report on Tuesday, with a call that came in at 8:20 a.m., Maine Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck said. Ten communities across the state received such reports, he said.

“Not only is this a criminal scenario, but these are callous and inhumane acts against our kids, against our residents, against these parents,” Sauschuck said. “We need to make sure we’re reacting to that accordingly.”

Law enforcement are conducting a criminal investigation “to see if we can bring somebody to justice in reference to today’s events,” he said.

The Maine State Police and the Maine Information Analysis Center are assisting local law enforcement across the state in their investigations, according to Shannon Moss, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety. Moss on Tuesday morning said police believed these reports to be hoaxes.

At Sanford High School and Regional Technical Center and Portland High School, students were evacuated and classes canceled for the remainder of the day. School won’t be in session in Sanford on Wednesday, either, Sanford Superintendent Matt Nelson said.

The call that came into Sanford and other communities was detailed and described active-shooter scenarios, Sauschuck said.

The person who called police in Sanford said they were a teacher and that there were injuries. They described a white man wearing a black jacket and black pants carrying a long rifle, Sanford police Lt. Matthew Gagne said.

Law enforcement officers leave Portland High School to applause from a crowd on Tuesday, after a hoax active shooter incident. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

There were two school resource officers on the scene at the time of the call.

No injuries were found after a thorough search involving several law enforcement agencies, authorities said. A dozen different ambulances from nearby towns showed up at the scene.

“It’s just the world we live in that we have to be ready to respond to such things,” Sanford fire Chief Steve Benotti said.

Police are attempting to contact the caller, whom Gagne believes was someone impersonating a teacher. The caller did not give a name.

Sanford students were bused to the Memorial Gymnasium, and police encouraged parents to pick up their children there.

“This is the first time anything like this has come to the Sanford school,” Gagne said. “The fallout from that emotionally, for the teachers and students, is probably going to be long felt.”

About 11 minutes after dispatchers in Sanford received a report, dispatchers in Portland also were hit with a call claiming that there was an active shooter inside Portland High School, the Portland Police Department said on Twitter.  

Students hug and laugh with relief outside Portland High School on Tuesday, after a hoax active shooter incident. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

About 20 police officers searched the school while students remained on lockdown, but found no credible threat. Around 11:15 a.m. students from the school started to be released to their parents.

In Fort Fairfield, the Middle/High School went into a soft lockdown — with no one allowed to enter or exit the building and hallways and restrooms cleared — following a report of a shooting in its chemistry lab, Principal Tanya Staples wrote to parents. The school stayed in the soft lockdown until police gave the all clear.

Around 11 a.m. — almost three hours after the first active shooter report — first responders in Brewer received a report that shots had been fired at Brewer High School, but that report was quickly determined to be a hoax, according to Brewer Superintendent Gregg Palmer. 

Belfast Area High School also received a report that sent the school into a lockdown, according to Belfast police Chief Bobby Cormier. The high school has been cleared and no threat was found, he said. 

High schools in Ellsworth and Rockland received calls from police around 10 a.m. reporting that they had received calls about active shooters at the schools. 

Ellsworth High School went into a lockdown while police swept the building and determined all was clear, according to an Ellsworth School Department post on Facebook. The lockdown was later lifted. At Oceanside High School, Rockland police verified the report was a hoax, and the school continued with normal operations, according to a Facebook post from Superintendent John McDonald.

Students hug and laugh with relief outside Portland High School on Tuesday, after a hoax active shooter incident. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

In Bangor, Superintendent James Tager said in a voice message to parents that the city’s schools are safe, but Bangor police will have an increased presence throughout the day, he said.

“This is part of a national trend of these hoaxes being called into police departments and other first responders,” Tager said. “Called swatting, the people involved try to create panic in local communities.”

A spokesperson for the FBI’s Boston Division said the agency is aware of “numerous” active shooter threats made against schools throughout Maine, but that it has no information to suggest that they are credible. The FBI will continue to assist law enforcement in Maine and urged the public to remain vigilant, the spokesperson said.

The Maine Department of Education is also working to support educators across the state and provide resources as needed, according to Marcus Mrowka, a spokesperson for the department.

BDN writers Kay Neufeld, Kathleen O’Brien and Paul Bagnall contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this report contained incorrect information about the role of Brewer police in responding to reports of an active shooter at Brewer High School.

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...