BREAKING: Law enforcement respond to hoax active shooter calls in both Austin, Albert Lea

Published 10:41 am Monday, February 27, 2023

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Gunshots reportedly heard in the background of Austin call to dispatch


Monday morning’s threat that sent law enforcement in both Austin and Albert Lea to community schools has been determined to be a hoax.

At around 9:53 a.m., law enforcement in Austin, which included the Austin Police Department, Mower County Sheriff’s Department and Minnesota State Patrol, descended on Banfield Elementary for a report of an active shooter.

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According to a press release issued by Austin Police Chief David McKichan early this afternoon, the original call to dispatch indicated an active shooter was on site and chillingly ended with what the dispatcher believed to be gunshots in the background.

Our patrol staff was immediately dispatched and Sheriff’s deputies, who were in Austin, also responded,” McKichan said in his statement. “Those initial responding officers and deputies did not find that a shooting had occurred at Banfield.”

Not far away, Mayo Ambulance staged as a precaution in the parking lot of Mayo Clinic Health Systems-Austin West, though, there were no injuries reported

Read more at: Austin likely part of a rash of ‘swatting’ calls

“We responded to a report of a critical incident at Banfield that was unfounded,” McKichan said earlier in the morning outside of the school after it had been cleared. “Both our staff and the sheriff’s office take any call like this incredibly seriously so it was a very quick response.”

While in the course of searching the school, law enforcement treated the incident like a real shooting out of caution, which included breaching a door in the school.

We do believe this false call to have been made maliciously in order to generate such a response,” McKichan said. “Our School Resources Officers will continue to communicate with the school district following this event. Our agency has been in communication with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension about our incident as well.”

In a statement to the community, Superintendent Dr. Joey Page said that the school went into a lockdown as law enforcement searched the school.

“This morning, law enforcement responded to a swatting call concerning Banfield Elementary School, which immediately went into a short-term lockdown,” Page said. “Out of an abundance of caution, all the district buildings were put into a hold. Law enforcement responded immediately and secured the building.”

The school returned to normal operations not long after.

“At this time, we have met with local law enforcement, and they have determined the incident was not credible, and the school has returned to normal operations,” Page confirmed. “Resources will be available to respond to students, staff, and parents as needed.”  

Several parents arrived at the school throughout the course of the morning with some choosing to leave with their kids. One of those parents was Krista Qualey.

“I love the quick response of the police officers,” she said, standing next to her son Liam Nash. “It’s unfortunate that this is the world we live in today. Even if it was just a scam or quote, unquote ‘joke,’ I’m not taking a chance with my little one’s life.”

In Albert Lea, law enforcement responded to Halverson Elementary School, however, school was not in session because of parent-teacher conferences.

A statement from the school district said law enforcement was immediately dispatched to Halverson as a safety measure and determined no threat to the building. 

“Students and staff are our top priority by ensuring their safety and we appreciate support from Albert Lea Police Department and Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office,” the statement said.

Both were the only schools in either community that were targeted.

“Again, someone took advantage of the system to create fear and anxiety,” McKichan said. “Nothing occurred here besides our response.”

The “swatting” calls in both Austin and Albert Lea were similar to the scam calls law enforcement in both communities and around the state responded to in September of last year when a call was made of an active shooter at the high school in Austin.

McKichan said he was unaware of any other calls outside of Austin with this latest incident.

Both McKichan and Page indicated a review of the incident going forward.

“It creates just such an issue for the kids and the staff and I know for the parents that are coming in this is a big deal and it’s not lost on us or the district,” McKichan said.

Each of our schools has established a safety plan and lockdown procedures that contribute to maintaining a safe learning environment for our students,” Page said. “In the wake of this incident and part of our practice, school personnel will review those plans and continue our ongoing relationship with law enforcement to ensure we do everything we can to maintain the safety and security of our schools.”