Threats close pair of southern Manitoba schools

Two Manitoba schools were closed Thursday and students asked to stay home, as threatening phone calls linked to a U.S. phone number are being investigated by RCMP and by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

On Wednesday evening around 9:50 p.m., Shelley Amos, the superintendent of the Steinbach-based Hanover School Division (HSD) sent an email to parents and guardians of students at Clearspring Middle School in Steinbach and the Kleefeld School in the rural community of Kleefeld that classes would be cancelled at both schools all day Thursday.

“Please be advised that Clearspring Middle School received a voice message today from an unknown caller issuing a direct threat to Kleefeld School,” Amos said in the email.

The threat on Wednesday is now the third threat made towards a HSD school since last Wednesday, and the third made from a U.S. phone number.

According to RCMP Sgt. Paul Manaigre, a threat was first made over the phone to the Clearspring Middle School last Wednesday, and the caller made claims that a gun was going to be brought into the school.

Manaigre added the threat last Wednesday “did not reveal any credibility to it.”

A second threat was then phoned into the same school one day later and that led to the closure of Clearspring Middle School last Friday.

“Although it is not believed that this second threat is any more credible, the school was closed,” Manaigre said.

The calls have been tracked to a home south of the border in Menasha, Wisconsin, and Manaigre said RCMP reached out to police in Wisconsin regarding the calls, and that police in the U.S. have ruled out the homeowners associated with the phone number as the source of the calls.

He said it is believed the calls were made by someone using a fake number, and making the calls using the Internet.

In her email on Wednesday, Amos confirmed that the latest threat made this week came from the same number as the two calls that were made last week.

“Upon investigation, the RCMP determined the call was once again associated with a U.S. telephone number,” Amos said. “There are indications that this is not a legitimate threat, but this has not yet been confirmed. An active investigation by the RCMP is underway.”

She added the schools were being closed on Thursday “in an abundance of caution,” and additional information would be sent to parents before Friday morning regarding when the schools would resume regular classes.

“We take threats to schools or persons very seriously,” Amos said.

According to RCMP, the focus of their investigation will be on identifying the IP address associated with the phone calls.

“Steinbach RCMP along with the Department of Homeland Security in the U.S. are investigating, as they continue to track the source of the phone calls which is still believed to have originated in the U.S.,” Manaigre said.

“The caller would have used a false number when making the call over the internet, so the focus of the investigation will fall on identifying the IP address associated to this call.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun