TORONTO (AP) — More than 19,000 students on the small Canadian province of Prince Edward Island were evacuated Wednesday after police received a threat that bombs were placed at a number of schools. Police said nothing suspicious was found after officers searched all of the schools in the province.
Threats were also received elsewhere in Canada.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sgt. Kevin Baillie said the Prince Edward Island threat came via fax Wednesday morning, and that schools on the normally sleepy island were notified within 10 minutes.
"There's been no threat found. Everybody is safe," he told reporters.
The threat was faxed to Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Canada's capital of Ottawa, Baillie said.
"The message stated that the bombs been had placed at a number of schools and would be detonated today," he said.
A senior police official said a "swatting" style computer distributed a threat to jurisdictions across Canada and in the U.S. and they are trying to locate the source. Swatting is when someone contacts emergency services to deceive officials and report a bogus threat so that emergency personnel go to a scene. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation.
Police in Winnipeg, Manitoba in the central part of Canada are also investigating a threat against the city's largest school division which appears similar to the one in Prince Edward Island. Police say the Winnipeg School Division received a faxed message around 8:30 a.m. that contained a threat to all schools within its jurisdiction. Schools were not evacuated or placed in lockdown.
Students at more than 60 English language and French language schools in Prince Edward Island were taken to safe locations by staff outside the schools, where buses met them.
Baillie said bomb threats are hard to evaluate for credibility, but said authorities like to they err on the side of caution. "This disrupts a lot of lives," he said.
Parents and guardians were asked to wait for further instructions before picking up their children.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he empathized with parents.
"As a parent I know how worrisome this type of situation can be. I know the affected parents must be having a difficult day," Trudeau said.
Parker Grimmer, the island's director of public schools, said police contacted the school system Wednesday morning about "a threat that was of a significant nature" and asked for the evacuation of all schools. He said he expects all students to return to classes on Thursday.
"This is new to us so we are reacting in a new way," Grimmer said. "But we have plans and procedures and I think we followed them."
At Holland College in the provincial capital of Charlottetown, a woman burst into the classroom to tell everyone to pick up their books and evacuate immediately, student Morgan McNeil said. Outside, everyone was in a panic and helicopters were flying overhead, he said.
Baillie said similar threats were made to schools and colleges in the nearby province of Nova Scotia, where the NSCC Marconi Campus, Cape Breton University and the NSCC technology campus in Halifax were evacuated.
At least one school in the United States also was threatened, he said. It wasn't immediately clear which one was involved or if it was evacuated.