Students hug and laugh with relief outside Portland High School on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, after a hoax active shooter incident. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

Susan Young is the Bangor Daily News opinion editor.

Several Maine schools went into lockdowns Tuesday morning after they received calls about active shooters.

Thankfully the reports were hoaxes.

The calls, which were made to 10 schools stretching from York County to Aroostook County, appear to be what is called “swatting.” This is when someone calls dispatchers to say an emergency requiring a law enforcement response is already happening, when it actually isn’t. Swatting is designed to evoke chaos and a traumatic response. It has been on the rise since schools have returned to mostly normal operations after pandemic-prompted shutdowns.

What does it say about America’s current state of affairs that law enforcement, school personnel, students, parents and others had to, at least, momentarily, consider that the threats could be real?

School shootings are tragically frequent, and any reports of an active shooter in a school send ripples of fear and worry through communities.

“Students and parents thought the text messages they were sending could be their last. There were rumors of shooting deaths,” BDN reporter David Marino wrote on Tuesday. “Some distraught parents screamed at police, angry about a lack of clear and quick information.”

Chris Dubois, who was working at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard about 40 minutes away from Sanford, described a text message from his daughter, saying she loved him and was in lockdown. He said he was “terrified.”

“I was scared,” student Dakota Berube told the BDN. “I was laying under a desk.”

And, that was just at Sanford High School, one of the first schools to get a call about an active shooter.

Even though the calls made to Maine schools on Tuesday were deemed to be hoaxes, their traumatic consequences are very real.

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

I in no way want to suggest that the emotional fallout of a lockdown that was the result of a hoax call is in any way as traumatic as witnessing an actual school shooting. However, lockdowns like Tuesday’s have a detrimental impact on students, teachers, law enforcement and others.

“There’s a very significant impact. You have that brief moment, whether it’s for five minutes or an hour, you have that time period where you legitimately believe there is an active shooting event going on,” Amy Klinger, co-founder of the Educator’s School Safety Network, told BDN reporter Sawyer Loftus. “It creates an incredible amount of trauma and fear because, at that moment, however long it is, people are responding and acting as though they are in fear for their lives because they are.”

That is a terrible consequence of America’s culture of mass shootings. They’ve happened at schools, grocery stores, concerts, parades, movie theaters, to name just a few places where people have been gunned down.

Rather than restrict guns head-on, many steps have been taken to, in theory at least, make schools more safe. Active-shooter drills are now standard in most schools.

“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.

Courtney Angelosante is part of a team, called the Positive Behavioral Intervention System, that seeks to provide resources and supports to help schools deal with crises. The team quickly pulled together resources after Tuesday morning’s events. Many are available through the Maine Department of Education’s website.

Angelosante, who is affiliated with the University of Maine, reiterated that students, families, educators and first responders who were impacted by the calls and lockdowns Tuesday may have a variety of responses to and questions about what happened. Providing time and spaces to talk is vitally important, she said.

While keeping an eye out for concerning responses to these events is important, Angelosante had an important reminder for worried adults and children: Most people are good people.

“Even if it was just a threat, it can hurt and have long-lasting impacts,” she told me. “But, we should also remember that most people are good.”

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Susan Young

Susan Young is the opinion editor at the Bangor Daily News. She has worked for the BDN for over 25 years as a reporter and editor.