Port Moody police are working with multiple law enforcement agencies to track down and charge individuals responsible for fake bomb threats at two local schools.
Const. Sam Zacharias confirmed to the Tri-City News police have in the past contacted the FBI because individuals may be working together online from computers across the globe.
“A lot of these incidents can occur through online chats and can involve people from other countries,” including “multiple people and co-conspirators from other parts of the world,” Zacharias said.
Current investigations have not involved the Federal Bureau of Investigation at this time but indicates how "seriously" Port Moody police take these incidents, he added.
In the past several days, hoax calls were made about bomb threats at Seaview Elementary and Port Moody Secondary schools. They prompted evacuations and extensive searches involving police officers and specially-trained search dogs.
The first prank call occurred on Friday, Friday, Oct. 1 at Seaview Elementary and required the evacuation of about 30 people, including children attending a daycare.
Three days later, on Monday, police were called to Port Moody Secondary to investigate another bomb threat, which turned out to be fake.
More than 1,000 students and staff were evacuated from the building until a search was complete Monday afternoon.
Police are also investigating whether the first fake bomb threat to Seaview was linked to threats made to officials at Metrotown mall and SkyTrain station in Burnaby, which required the buildings to be shut down for several hours.
A youth was arrested for public mischief in the Seaview incident on Friday, but was later released.
Zacharias couldn’t confirm whether the youth was involved in the second bomb threat at Port Moody secondary or someone else made the prank call to simply copy the earlier incident.
“We have to get to the bottom of this,” Zacharias acknowledged.
This isn’t the first time Port Moody schools have been targeted with prank calls about bomb threats, which are called “swattings”
In April 2021, Moody Middle School was locked down and evacuated after a man called police, saying he had planted three pipe bombs in the building, and had more weapons in his car which was parked outside. After about an hour and a half of searching the premises with K9 dog crews, police declared the school was safe.
At the time, PMPD said it was the fourth hoax call the department had received in the that month.
No arrests were made in those calls and they died down as summer approached, Zacharias said, but not before an intensive investigation was carried out.
“We take these calls very seriously and now the investigation begins to try and source the [most recent] phone call,” he said.
Burnaby RCMP meanwhile confirmed it is working with multiple police agencies, including Port Moody police on possible links between the Seaview swatting and the Metrotown incidents.
“Our Burnaby investigation is ongoing. We are coordinating our investigation with several local RCMP detachments and municipal departments,” stated Cpl. Mike Kalanj of the Burnaby RCMP.
“Swatting incidents of this size do not occur on a regular basis, which led police to believe there might be a connection. Our investigators are still gathering information,” Kalanj further stated in an email.
Making a fake police report is illegal. Canada’s Criminal Code deems it “public mischief” with harsh penalties of up to five years in jail.
But the personal toil and impact on communities can have wide repercussions. Zacharias agreed.
Not only are costly emergency personnel tied up to deal with these threats, but evacuations are stressful for those involved.
“In a large venue like a school and where there’s hundreds of people it does cause panic and grief,” Zacharias said.
The Tri-Cities’ most notorious swatter, a Coquitlam teen who "swatted" the homes and schools of young gamers around North America in 2014 — and threatened to blow up Simon Fraser University and the Space Mountain ride in Disneyland — created significant havoc with his activities.
The youth, age 17 at the time, received a 16-month custodial sentence, followed by eight-months of community supervision for his crimes.