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'It's not a joke': Billings West High School among many Montana schools impacted by swatting attempt

Increased police presence at Billings West High School following multiple threats
Posted at 6:40 PM, Dec 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-09 20:40:58-05

BILLINGS — Billings West High School was one of many Montana schools targeted in a swatting attempt on Friday, and parents are upset.

But this isn't the first time the school has been targeted with threats of violence. Just this week, the school has been hit with three threats, two for a shooting on Dec. 7 and the swatting attempt on Friday.

The call came in at approximately 9:30 a.m. on Friday, prompting theschool to enter lockdown at approximately 9:33 a.m., according to the Billings Police Department.

April Veach, a parent of a freshman at West, explained Friday her child asked her to pick her up from school following the lockdown.

“It’s a heightened response from us as parents, it’s a heightened response for our children,” Veach explained. “Our child did text us and ask us to pick them up."

When asked how she felt about these continued threats, Veach said she expects them at this point. But that doesn't mean she doesn't take them seriously.

“My concern is that it becomes desensitizing. A lot of parents now are like, ‘Why did you keep your kids home? You know it’s not real.’ I want to say there will be a day when it is real, so we do need to take it seriously,” Veach said. “BPD said they got a lot of calls throughout the state, and they have to treat each one as they are real, and parents need to do the same."

Veach said these constant threats are leading to heightened anxiety in the students and parents.

“When they are in class they’re getting migraines, their stomach hurts, they’re basically just having a physical response to anxiety," Veach said. “I don’t want to ignore that text and be like, ‘Hey, it’s just another threat.’ I had to treat that and respond and say ‘I love you, take deep breaths,’ because I’m so terrified that’s the last text message I get from my kid. I’ve seen so many times in the news when parents did receive that last text. And that, to me, is terrifying."

Veach is joined in this opinion by another mother of a West student, Shelley Solomon.

Solomon interviewed with MTN News on Tuesday about the first threat West received, and again on Friday following the third threat in one week. She explains she was frustrated with the lack of communication from the school while the threat was being investigated.

"I was on my way to pick him up already, and found out from a friend that they were in lockdown," Solomon explained. “He didn’t answer his phone. I didn’t try and call, I just messaged him, but he didn’t answer."

Once the lockdown was lifted, Solomon attempted to speak with someone from the school about the threat. She said she spoke with West Principal Kelly Hornby about her concerns, in what she described as a "heated conversation".

"I mean I get it, they're probably being inundated with calls, but my word," Solomon said. She would like to see more transparency from the school and their communication.

While this threat has been categorized as a swatting attempt by the Montana Department of Justice, Solomon explains her family is still taking it seriously. The Anti-Defamation League defines swatting as "The deliberate and malicious act of reporting a false crime or emergency to evoke an aggressive response."

“It’s not a funny joke though. It causes a lot of anxiety. And for the kiddos that are already in crisis, this heightens anxiety levels not only in the kids but in parents and I’m sure school officials also,” Solomon said. “It’s not funny, it’s not a joke, it’s not something to mess around with. It’s not something anybody should be doing."

Superintendent Greg Upham published a newsletter on Friday afternoon explaining the events that unfolded at the school.