A 14-year-old freshman at Murrow High School in Brooklyn was sitting in history class one April morning when she got a string of chilling texts from a friend. A threat to shoot up the school had been posted on the chat site Omegle — and it included a list of about a dozen students who would be killed. One of them was the 14-year-old girl.
“To see your child’s name on a literal hit list was truly the most completely devastating thing,” said Jessica Heyman, the girl’s mother.
But the girl, whose name is being withheld, knew immediately that the threat was a hoax: Just days earlier, another threat had targeted students at another New York City high school, the Clinton School, using precisely the same language.
The incidents at Murrow and Clinton were two in a string of nearly identical hoax threats aimed at more than a dozen New York City schools over the last four months, and at least nine other schools nationwide, including ones in Long Beach, Calif., and Hicksville, N.Y., on Long Island, according to parents, students and two senior law enforcement officials.
The New York schools include many of the city’s most elite public and private schools, including the Brooklyn Friends School, Brooklyn Technical High School and the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, and Beacon High School, LaGuardia High School and the United Nations International School in Manhattan. As recently as this week, the police said, a threat was made against New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn.
John Miller, the deputy commissioner for the Police Department’s intelligence division, said the department was investigating seven of these threats in New York City, and coordinating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is probing the threats nationally.
“These are not credible threats,” Mr. Miller said. “They’re meant to cause disruption.”
The authorities believe the threats are made by a person — possibly overseas, Mr. Miller said — who finds the names of students at a school by searching Instagram for children with public accounts using rudimentary social media skills. Often, they pose as a student of the school that they are threatening, Mr. Miller added.
The threat-maker targets high-profile schools to gain attention but does not appear to have any intention of following through, according to a separate senior law enforcement official, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the threats.
“We take every security related incident seriously to ensure the continued safety of our students and staff and we are working closely with the N.Y.P.D. on their investigation of these threats,” said Jenna Lyle, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education.
For decades, American schools have had to contend with fake fire alarms, bomb threats and threats to commit school shootings. But these hoaxes reflect a disconcerting new reality for a…