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Police go to schools across northern Minnesota after 'nonspecific' threat; no incidents reported

A threat made by an unidentified person in an internet chat conversation sent police across northern Minnesota scurrying to schools across the region Wednesday, although no incidents were reported.

Police responded to a report from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that an unidentified person made a “nonspecific” threat against a school in northern Minnesota.

Officers from Duluth, Hermantown, Proctor, Silver Bay, Two Harbors and many other departments and agencies across the region were stationed at schools by early afternoon and oversaw students going home without incident.

While individual school or school district lockdowns aren’t unusual, a situation like the one Wednesday — that affected students from the North Dakota border in the west to the shore of Lake Superior in the east — is rare, if not unique.

Hermantown Deputy Police Chief Shawn Padden said officers were standing by at the city's schools as students were dismissed at the end of the day.

"There was nothing specific, not even what city. But we are taking the precaution,” Padden told the News Tribune.

The Duluth school district on Wednesday afternoon sent a blanket email to parents of students saying that the Duluth Police Department "is taking precautionary steps today in response to information related to a nonspecific threat to a northern Minnesota school. The information, received from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, does not identify a specific school or city."

Duluth police deployed officers to public, private and parochial schools within the city. Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken and Duluth school district Superintendent Bill Gronseth said the response "balances school safety with the importance of maintaining the educational process."

Duluth school district officials said their students were sent home at the normal dismissal time with no incidents reported.

The BCA reported Wednesday that it “received a report early this morning from an individual who was participating in an anonymous online chat with an unknown individual. The unknown individual claimed to be considering carrying out violence Wednesday at a northern Minnesota school,” the state agency said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

The BCA began investigating immediately and was attempting to identify the source and validity of the threat. The BCA notified northern Minnesota law enforcement agencies and recommended they remain vigilant for possible school-related violence until the agency could determine the validity of the threat.

“The BCA continues to investigate, but at this time there is nothing to substantiate a specific threat," the agency said Wednesday.

School officials varied on their reaction to the BCA warning. Superintendent Mike Kolness of East Grand Forks (Minn.) Public Schools said the vague nature of the threat did not warrant a full lockdown, but he said precautions were taken.

Elsewhere in northwestern Minnesota, Chief Deputy Ernie Beitel with the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office said a deputy was placed at each school in Beltrami County outside of Bemidji city limits, while the Bemidji Police Department placed officers at schools inside the city.

Red Lake school district Superintendent Anne Lundquist said the school went on lockdown. Staff monitored people entering and leaving the building, recess was held indoors, and after-school activities were canceled.

Forum News Service contributed to this report.

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