Sen. Mannion proposes law to fight hoax calls of active shooters in NY schools

John W. Mannion

Originally published in

Onondaga, N.Y. — A bill introduced by state Sen. John Mannion Friday would add harsher penalties for reporting false active shootings at schools.

Reporting fake school shootings or violence at schools would be a class D felony and punishable up to seven years in prison for anyone convicted of “swatting” under the bill. Swatting is a prank call alleging a fake emergency

The bill is a response to numerous hoax 911 calls last month that reported shootings at schools across the U.S. including New York state. Westhill High School in Central New York was one of the schools targeted.

On March 30, a 911 call reported seven students at Westhill had been shot in the school’s bathroom. Students were ordered to stay in place. Police officers from multiple agencies rushed to the school in the town of Onondaga. It took them about 30 minutes to confirm there was no active threat.

Onondaga County Sheriff Toby Shelley said Friday that investigators determined that the 911 call originated from Canada. The FBI has taken over the investigation, he said.

Mannion (D-Geddes), speaking Friday at Westhill, said a deterrent to hoax shooting calls is needed to prevent wasting first responder resources and to limit the effect those calls have on students’ mental health.

Under current law, falsely reporting a school shooting or violent incident on school grounds would be a class E felony offense, said David Doyle, Mannion’s spokesperson.

“What was ultimately a fake incident was very real for the people standing here with me today,” Mannion said flanked by police officials and a Westhill student. “It was disruptive. It was scary.”

Caitlyn Knohl, a junior at Westhill, said an announcement for students to hold in place came during her 4th period class.

She said students didn’t think much of it at first but another announcement followed and soon her classroom was locked, lights were shut off, students were gathered in a corner and some were calling their parents.

Knohl said she immediately texted her brother, also a student at Westhill.

“It really was scary,” she said. “It was a confusing event for all of us and something I think that has impacted me as well as the school. I think a lot of people are still processing it.”