Pair of bomb threats received locally during nationwide scare

A police officer removes police tape along California Street in San Francisco, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Authorities say bomb threats sent to dozens of schools, universities and other locations across the U.S. appear to be a hoax. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

NASHUA – From San Francisco to North Carolina, and from San Diego to New Hampshire, hundreds of bomb threats were issued against schools, businesses and government buildings on Thursday.

Ultimately, after searches, evacuations and fear, there were no signs of explosives, and authorities said the scare appeared to be a crude extortion attempt.

Nevertheless, Nashua officials took the two threats received in the city seriously.

“We have had two reports of this (bomb threats) this afternoon,” Nashua Police Department Sgt. Dan Ostler said Thursday. “We take them as serious threats, but at the same time, we don’t have anything to lend further credibility to what we received.”

Ostler declined to disclose which two local offices within the city received those bomb threats.

“We’re working with the state of New Hampshire Fusion Center,” he added regarding investigation efforts.

Nashua Director of Emergency Management Justin Kates said officials received an awareness notice from the New Hampshire Information Analysis Center at 2:41 p.m. Thursday and immediately passed it along to the Information Technology Division and to the Nashua School District.

That was done for distribution to those end users that would potentially be on the receiving end of what Kates calls “hoax email.”

“This is the value of fusion centers like New Hampshire Information Analysis Center, to recognize a national or global incident and share info to state and local officials for the purpose to respond proactively,” Kates said.

Kates said a few years ago, Nashua received robo calls. He said since that time, the school district has hosted joint training with NPD on bomb and threat assessments and has enhanced emergency operations plans annually with these protocols.

“If a robo email or call is sent to the school district or other government facility, a close relationship exists with Nashua PD to do a threat assessment on the validity of the message content and determine next incident response steps,” Kates said. “Information sharing and collaboration is key.”

According to the Associated Press, some of the emails featured the subject line: “Think Twice.” They were sent from a spoofed email address. The sender claimed to have had an associate plant a small bomb in the recipient’s building and that the only way to stop him from setting it off was by making an online payment of $20,000 in Bitcoin.

“We are currently monitoring multiple bomb threats that have been sent electronically to various locations throughout the city,” the New York City Police Department’s counterterrorism unit tweeted. “These threats are also being reported to other locations nationwide & are NOT considered credible at this time.”

Other law enforcement agencies also dismissed the threats, which were written in a choppy style reminiscent of the Nigerian prince email scam.

The Palm Beach County, Florida, sheriff’s office and the Boise, Idaho, police said they had no reason to believe that threats made to locations in those areas were credible. One of the emails wound up in a spam filter, Boise Police Chief William Bones said.

The FBI said it is assisting law enforcement agencies that are dealing with the threats.

“We are aware of the recent bomb threats made in cities around the country, and we remain in touch with our law enforcement partners to provide assistance,” FBI Boston office spokeswoman Kristen Setera said. “As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activities which could represent a threat to public safety.”

In the wake of Thursday’s emails, some schools across the country closed early and others were evacuated or placed on lockdown. Authorities said a threat emailed to a school in Troy, Missouri, about 55 miles northeast of St. Louis, was sent from Russia.

The bomb threats also prompted evacuations at city hall in Aurora, Illinois, the offices of the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, a suburban Atlanta courthouse and businesses in Detroit.

“Organizations nationwide, both public and private, have reported receiving emailed bomb threats today,” Michigan State Police spokeswoman Shannon Banner said. “They are not targeted toward any one specific sector.”

Penn State University notified students via a text alert about threats to a half-dozen buildings and an airport on its main campus in State College, Pennsylvania. In an update, the school said the threat appeared to be part of a “national hoax.”

Adam Urquhart can be reached at 594-1206, or at aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.