Officials say warnings of a possible threat against schools in northern New Brunswick could be a Halloween hoax, but they are continuing to investigate the potential risk.
Francophone schools in the province’s northwest were closed Wednesday after police said they received two calls regarding a possible threat, with one caller saying an individual intended to enter a high school with a gun “to do a clean-up.”
Insp. Steve Robinson of the Edmundston Police Force said it could be a stunt, but that the threat was credible enough to close all 18 schools in the district.
“Until we can confirm it was a prank call we’ll take this situation seriously and assume it could be real,” he said in an interview.
“We’ve dedicated all of our efforts to finding out what happened.”
City spokesperson Mychele Poitras said an update was expected Wednesday afternoon but that “it seems like it could be a prank.”
“Police are meeting with several people who may or may not be involved,” she said. “They are not taking this lightly at all.”
Police said a first call was received at 5:34 a.m. by a man who said that his son’s friend intended to go to Edmundston’s Cite des Jeunes A.-M.-Sormany High School with a rifle.
They said a second anonymous call at 6:15 a.m. indicated that a male student was carrying a rifle in a guitar case.
Robinson said the RCMP is involved in the investigation because the calls appear to be coming from the Haut-Madawaska region – believed to be the youth’s area of residence.
“The situation is worrying and we wanted to close the schools because of the threat,” Robinson said in a statement. “It may be a stunt because it’s Halloween, but we cannot take any chances in a situation like this.”
Police said because the targeted school or the suspect’s place of residence were unclear, all the schools in the district and the administrative offices were closed.
The Francophone North West School District, which includes the Grand Falls, Edmundston, Saint-Quentin and Kedgwick regions, has 18 schools, 5,218 students and 880 employees, including more than 400 teachers, according to its website.
The high school allegedly targeted – Cite des Jeunes A.-M.-Sormany – has approximately 1,300 students in Grades 9-12.
“We are aware that this situation can cause fear and worry for families,” Luc Caron, general manager of the school district, said in a statement in French posted to Facebook.
“Fortunately, there were no incidents and all of our students and staff are safe.”
The statement added that it’s unclear whether classes will resume Thursday, noting that “it’s impossible to predict if the situation will be back to normal tomorrow morning.”
Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Brian Kenny said the safety and security of students and staff is a priority.
“We understand that district officials and police made a decision to close all schools as a precaution as initially it was unclear where the threat was coming from or if a specific school was being targeted,” he said in an emailed statement.
He added that department is monitoring the situation and school officials are working closely with police.
A social media post by the school district early Wednesday indicating all schools were closed was initially met with confusion as parents and students scrambled to figure out what was going on.
However, as news of the threat became apparent, many took to Facebook to praise authorities for their quick response.
Edmundston police and the RCMP are continuing to investigate and recommend parents keep their children at home or stay with a responsible person for the time being.
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