Updated: Sept. 14, 7:20 p.m.
Schools across Flathead County will remain closed Friday as authorities, including the FBI, investigate a series of threats.
Administrators announced Thursday night that classes would not resume on Friday as the investigation continues into threats made against local schools.
“Local Law enforcement and the FBI feel they have a credible threat, and they are working diligently to apprehend the suspect,” administrators said in a public announcement sent to parents and media outlets.
Flathead Valley Community College announced it was also canceling classes and closing its offices again on Friday in both Kalispell and Libby. The Early Childhood Center will be closed, too.
Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry said law enforcement “made progress” on Thursday but declined to elaborate on any details due to the sensitivity of the investigation. “Persons of interest” were interviewed but Curry declined to provide any information gleaned from those interviews.
“Based upon our estimation, without revealing any details of the investigation, we certainly feel that there is a credible threat, or at least a potentially credible threat,” he said.
Curry said the sheriff’s office, Columbia Falls Police Department, Kalispell Police Department and the FBI are working together on the investigation.
“We pretty much have every resource on this right now,” he said.
Curry said the FBI’s involvement is due, in part, to the cyber nature of the threat.
No information has been uncovered that leads authorities to believe that there is any specific threat to public safety at this time, Curry said. Additional information will be released as it becomes available, he said.
The widespread closure is impacting more than 30 schools and roughly 15,700 students. Any extra-curricular activities or athletic events that would need to leave campus prior to 10 a.m. on Friday are cancelled. If the situation changes, administrators will determine whether additional events will resume after school Friday and Saturday.
“The safety and best interests of our students and staff remain our top priority,” administrators said. “We will continue to monitor the situation and update communities as we have more information.”
The closure includes all schools in the following districts:
Flathead Valley Community College (Kalispell and Libby campuses)
Whitefish Christian Academy
Area schools closed Thursday as a precautionary measure after school districts in Columbia Falls, Whitefish, Kalispell, Bigfork, West Valley and Smith Valley received anonymous threats via text message and email.
Administrators notified parents of the threats.
Curry said there are not any immediate public safety threats. Rumors of a shooting are inaccurate, he said.
The Kalispell Police Department issued a press release Thursday afternoon diffusing rumors of a shooting as well.
“There have been multiple reports on social media sites that a shooting occurred today at the Kalispell Center Mall. That information is false. There has not been a shooting at the Kalispell Center Mall or anywhere else in the City of Kalispell today,” the Police Department said in a public post on Facebook.
Kalispell officers did respond to the Kalispell Center Mall at approximately 10:47 a.m. for a report of several males with large knives. Officers identified the subjects and determined that there was neither a threat nor a crime.
“Again, there is no present danger at the mall and there was no shooting,” police said. “If you do happen to drive by the mall today you will probably notice several emergency vehicles parked in the parking lot. These vehicles are parked there for a Trauma Symposium occurring until 9 p.m. tonight at the Red Lion Hotel.”
Authorities will report any public threats or incidents if and when they occur.
“People should not become part of the hysteria by forwarding these false threats or calling 911 unless it is something they personally observe,” the KPD said.
Kalispell Regional Healthcare issued an announcement that dispelled rumors of its campus being on lockdown.
“The KRH security team has been briefed by authorities, and there are no threats to our facilities,” the hospital said. “KRH has extensive protocols in place to respond to any security threat in order to protect the safety of patients, staff and visitors.”
In light of the school threats, all law enforcement agencies have sent out extra patrols to area schools.
Whitefish City Manager Adam Hammatt said the doors at City Hall are locked today due to the threats but the city remains open for business.
“We ask that you come through the front main entrance and knock for assistance,” Hammatt said in a public memo sent Thursday afternoon. “So far this is working well and people coming in have been very understanding considering the circumstances. We apologize for this inconvenience and hope it doesn’t need to last long.”
The Whitefish Police Department is also assisting and making extra patrols around Whitefish schools and the city in general, Hammatt said.
The threats started with the Columbia Falls school district and eventually spread throughout the evening and early morning hours to other area schools, Curry said. All the threats were sent via text or email.
The closures impacted more than 30 sites, including Flathead Valley Community College and Bigfork, Columbia Falls, Whitefish, Flathead and Glacier high schools. Classes at the FVCC campus in Libby also closed.
“Late last night school administrators in Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Whitefish schools received anonymous threats via text message and email,” Whitefish Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt said in a message sent to parents early Thursday.
“Many threats directed at schools are made with the intention of disrupting education. Threats like these breed fear, anxiety and frustration for us all. While the vast majority of these threats turn out to be hoaxes, they have to be investigated and taken seriously. The safety and welfare of our students and staff is our highest priority.”
All school activities, including athletic events and practices, are canceled as well in Whitefish, Kalispell and Columbia Falls on Thursday. An event scheduled for tonight at FVCC, titled “Oil and Water Don’t Mix,” was also canceled.
Anyone with any information is asked to contact the Flathead County Detective Division at 758-5610.
The threat emerged on the same day that a shooter opened fire at a high school in Rockford, Washington, just south of Spokane, killing one student and injuring three others.