An email sent to Calaveras County school administrators and others throughout the state that threatened to bomb schools and shoot students and staff has been tentatively deemed a non-credible threat.
A cyber and hacking group calling itself Apophis Squad, based in Graubünden, Switzerland, according to their Twitter page, does not identify any specific school, location or date in the email threat, but begins with “you have made a choice not to listen to us. I got bullied at this school and you did nothing.”
The email threat was titled “Student Help!”
The email continues “now you will understand the true mean of pain. I am coming into school with 3 bombs, and a .22 hand gun. If I see any staff or student I will shoot them and kill them. When I run out of bullets, I will slit there throats and watch them bleed out on the floor. If I see any police at the school I will blowup the bombs.”
The original email was sent from the email “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
When The Union Democrat contacted Apophis Squad via private message on Twitter, they claimed responsibility for the email threat. A person who identified themselves as “PI3xI3t” said, “Listen. We do this because it is easy. Same with making a bomb. If we wanted to hurt people we would of walked into an airport and blown everyone tf up. Carbon wont set off a metal detector. Also we do this for a good reason. The U.S need this, we add a bit of spice into the lives of the people.”
Their motive, they said, was “we got nothing better to do.”
The person also said, “we did this because we had been planning on doing so, also we love taking the piss out of Law Enforcement.”
“Our group needs to be seen as a threat… so what does that better than bomb s***.”
The group said they planned to leak information from a U.S. Army database.
The group also claimed responsibility for threats directed toward schools in the United Kingdom, which were reported around March 21, 2018.
PI3xI3t also explained how the attack was planned and executed.
“We just used the good old internet and the dumb people who put and email on a school website. We used a python program to search for any email linked to a US school and it pu that into a txt file. Then we ran a php script which sent an email using the emails in that txt file.”
Just after 1 p.m., Apophis Squad posted a message “our emails are hitting the media” with a link to an article about a bomb threat triggering a lockdown at Siskiyou County schools.
The Twitter page also includes multiple references to “swatting” of United States and United Kingdom schools. “Swatting” is a practice by which a false emergency call is made to prompt an armed law enforcement response and is usually associated with online pranking.
Apophis is the Greek word for an ancient Egyptian mythological snake demon known as an embodiment for chaos.
The FBI office in Sacramento responded in an email that they had no comment on Apophis Squad. The message was credited to “FBI Sacramento Public Affairs” and added that they were “looking into” the inquiry.
Bret Harte High School superintendent Michael Chimente said an Angels Camp Police Department officer and two deputies arrived on the school campus Monday at about 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m.
“We have to take the threats seriously and we will do our best to communicate on an early basis,” he said.
In a press release Monday morning, the Angels Camp Police Department initially identified the source of the message as a Bret Harte High School student, but a later update confirmed that a Bret Harte High School student was not involved.
Sgt. Rachelle Whiting at the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office said extra patrols were set up around campuses at the onset of the threat. Multiple administrators in the Bret Harte School District and Calaveras County School district received the email threat, she said.
Several specially trained officers with the Angels Camp Police Department and deputies with Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office were trained as terrorism liaison officers and were in contact with the FBI to coordinate information sharing, Whiting said.
Whiting said several areas outside of Calaveras County had received similar emails. Multiple news agencies throughout the state have reported similar reports of bomb threats putting schools on lockdown.
Sgt. Andrea Benson with the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office said the messages had also been sent to school districts in Tuolumne County.
Benson said in the email that multiple schools had throughout the state had received the email and it was believed to be hoax after going viral on the internet.
The hacking group was believed to be somewhere in the United Kingdom and Netherlands, the email added.
A press release from the Angels Camp Police Department also identified the location source of the email threat as the Netherlands.
Calaveras County Unified School District Superintendent Mark Campbell said he also received the email on Sunday night and notified the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office Monday morning.
Since the message did not have any specific information, Campbell said he did not consider it to be an immediate threat, but added, “obviously I’m not going to ignore it so made sure to contact law enforcement right away.”
Campbell said no deputies were on any of the campuses Monday morning.
The threat comes just weeks after a town hall meeting was held in Calaveras County with Calaveras County Superintendent of Schools Scott Nanik and Calaveras County Sheriff Rick DiBasilio.
“Obviously even something that we deem not to be credible sparks a little bit of concern and unrest,” Campbell said.
Though he hadn’t received any direct reports of “unsettled people,” he acknowledged “that doesn’t mean that’s not out there.”
“I'm not getting the sense that anybody felt psychologically it was a credible threat or if our staff and students were at any point in danger,” he said.
Calaveras County Superintendent of Schools Scott Nanik said they had not been in contact with offices outside of the county, but contact had been initiated with all the districts in the county Monday morning.
“We are in a world where we do not minimize the threats we always take the very very seriously.”
The hoax threat comes about a month after a 15-year-old Calaveras High School student was arrested in connection with a report he mentioned bringing a firearm to campus.
During a school discussion on school safety on March 6, the student reportedly made either a joke or threat about bringing a gun to campus.
Calaveras County and Tuolumne County Schools have promoted renewed focus on school safety following the shooting deaths of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14.
On Feb. 21, an unspecified school shooting threat for schools with the acronym SHS circulated on social media and prompted increased security at campuses across the county.
In Tuolumne County, at Sonora High School and Summerville High School, campus experienced more absences that usual on Feb. 22.
In the social media screenshots of the threat, a person identified as “Ray Andres” wrote “I will not being telling people what my name is, but I will bring a gun to school Tomorrow so be prepared to hear shoots” and “Yes SHS is the school I want.”