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Los Angeles Chronicles :Threat that closed down L.A. schools appears to be a hoax, congressman says.

Threat that closed down L.A. schools appears to be a hoax, congressman says.

L.A. Unified School District officials say a threat came in electronic form and was made to numerous but unspecified campuses. The threat of violence involved backpacks and packages left at campuses.
 (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The threat that prompted Los Angeles Unified School District officials to close all schools Tuesday appears to be a hoax, a U.S. congressman on the House Intelligence Committee said.
"The preliminary assessment is that it was a hoax or something designed to disrupt school districts in large cities. The investigation is ongoing as to where the threat originated from and who was responsible," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said in a statement.
Another local congressman, Brad Sherman, said the person who sent an email threat to several Los Angeles Unified School board members claimed to be the victim of bullying and "an extremist Muslim who has teamed up with local jihadists" — although showed no real knowledge of Islam.
"There isn't a person on the street who couldn't have written this," said Sherman, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In a briefing to police commissioners on Tuesday afternoon, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the email listed all LAUSD schools but implied high schools were the main target. He said the email claimed explosives had been planted and that people with ISIS connections and AK-47s would "cause further loss of life."
Beck noted that the email did not bear the usual syntax errors, incomplete sentences and non-sequiturs that generally come with hoaxes. He said his agency reviewed the threat before contacting the FBI.
Any criticism of the school closures was "irresponsible" at this point, Beck said.
"Southern California has been through a lot in the past few weeks," he said. "Should we put our children through the same thing?"
The email also mentioned pistols and was traced to an IP address in Frankfurt, Germany, according to law enforcement sources.
All L.A. Unified campuses were closed Tuesday morning after receiving what officials had called a "credible threat" of violence involving backpacks and packages left at campuses. Still, one law enforcement source familiar with the evidence said early on there was no sign that "this individual is actually capable of carrying out the threat."

District officials have been looking into the threat since at least 10 p.m. Monday, according to a school police source.
But LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines told the Times he was not notified of the threat until 5 a.m. on Tuesday. He made the decision to close the schools and initial alerts went out at 6:30 a.m.
Cortines is retiring and his successor has not yet been named. The L.A. Board of Education met early Tuesday morning to discuss the school closures and to continue its discussions for a new schools' chief, although Cortines remains in charge.
New York City officials said the same email was sent to school leaders in their region, but Mayor Bill de Blasio said the note was deemed "so generic, so outlandish" that it would have been "a huge disservice" to shut down the schools.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner Stephen P. Davis called it a "cut and paste job" with a few changes, such as the name of the city.
"It entailed so much detail and was so over the top with so many people involved in the conspiracy that it didn't add up," Davis said. 
The agency was working closely with the FBI and the LAPD, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said. He added, "We cannot allow ourselves to raise levels of fear."
Law enforcement sources said that the person who made the threats could have masked their location and that the origin is believed to be much closer than Germany. The FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department are assisting in the investigation.  
Authorities had said they planned to search all of L.A. Unified's more than 900 schools, including charter schools and special education centers. The nation's second-largest school district, LAUSD has more than 700,000 students. 
“What we are doing today is no different than what we normally do, except that we are doing it in a mass way,” Cortines said.  
The massive closure across the Los Angeles region comes less than two weeks after two shooters killed 14 people in San Bernardino in what was the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001. 
LAPD Assistant Chief Jorge Villegas said schools were closed "in an abundance of caution."
“Nothing is [more] important to us than the safety of our kids,” he said.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti cautioned the public about jumping to conclusions. "Decisions need to be made in a matter of minutes," he said.
Students who arrived at school were supervised until parents picked them up, officials said. After-school programs and athletic events were canceled. Harbor City's Narbonne High — the only LAUSD school still playing in a state football bowl game — was offered a practice field at a Catholic school in Gardena. 
Brian Levin, a terror expert at Cal State San Bernardino, said the closure was unprecedented and could embolden others to make future threats.
"In today's environment, it makes sense to err on the side of safety, even though they almost always are hoaxes," he said. 
As families scrambled to reroute their days, many students were found outside in their neighborhoods.
Ana Rodriguez, a sixth-grader at Sunrise Elementary School in Boyle Heights, walked with her older sister to pick up coffee and bread for an unexpected breakfast at home.
The 11-year-old worried about her teachers and was nervous at the thought of returning to school the next day.
“I’m scared that a bomb could explode at my school,” she said.
Other students showed little concern about the threat and were happy to have a break from finals.
"I was ready for the AP Spanish test, but not history," said Alexis Diaz, a senior at Roosevelt High. Sipping a steaming hot chocolate, he and his younger brother glided by the deserted campus on hoverboards.
When he saw a newscast announcing the closures, he took a photo and posted it on Snapchat. He added the words "No school" and a surprised-face emoji.
Miguel Real, 13, rode his skateboard in Highland Park, having just been sent home from Burbank Middle School. He was on his way to tell the news to his mother who had known nothing about classes being canceled. 
"She's going to freak," he said.
Earlier in the day, Zayda Hernandez had been turned away from Mayberry Elementary in Echo Park. Her 6-year-old son, Matthew Alvarez, sat in the back seat of her car, bundled up in a coat and SpongeBob stocking cap.
Matthew hasn't been feeling well lately, but Hernandez has been urging him to just make it through the last few days of school before winter break.
She pulled up to see paper signs attached to the closed chain-link fence outside the school: “No school today.” “Hoy no hay escuela.”
She shook her head. She had to go to work.
But her son, a kindergartener, grinned. 
LAUSD Board President Steve Zimmer asked that employers show patience for parents in need of childcare.
“We need cooperation of the whole of Los Angeles today,” Zimmer said.
Private schools across the region were also affected by the threat. Hope Street Friends, a daycare and preschool in downtown Los Angeles, said it was closed due to "a credible terrorist threat." Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girls school in La Canada, notified parents that a "dedicated security team" would be stationed throughout the school. 
Adjacent school districts, including South Pasadena Unified and Long Beach Unified, sent notices to parents about the threat to LAUSD but said they were not affected and would remain open.  
Shortly after the district announced the closures, a 17-year-old male student was struck and killed by a city service truck while crossing a Highland Park street. The boy was near Avenue 60 and Figueroa Street at about 7:30 a.m., when he was hit, Los Angeles Police Officer Jane Kim said. 
Councilman Paul Krekorian warned that if the threat was determined to be a hoax, "it has cost millions of dollars and it's outrageous." He also expressed frustration that he learned of the threat through the media.
"It would be better for all of us if we could figure out ways of speeding up the process of sharing information, particularly when there's an incident of such significance," Krekorian said. 

L.A. council urges Southern California Gas to boost aid to residents after gas leak

The Los Angeles City Council is urging Southern California Gas Co. to step up its assistance to Porter Ranch families displaced by the gas leak at its Aliso Canyon facility by paying for healthcare, added transportation costs and private security for their vacant homes, among other costs.
The natural gas leak, which was discovered by the company more than seven weeks ago, has spurred many residents to leave their homes to avoid foul smells and chemicals that can trigger nausea and nosebleeds.
Southern California Gas has gotten thousands of relocation requests and is paying to move residents under an order from the county health department. But City Councilman Mitchell Englander, who represents the Porter Ranch area, said the relocation process has had shortcomings.
In an emergency motion Tuesday, he urged the company to bolster its assistance to displaced residents, including paying for out-of-pocket costs for health problems tied to the leak, any additional rent for monthly leases, added transportation costs and security to make sure vacant homes are secure.
“It is urgent,” Englander said Tuesday, arguing that the Los Angeles Police Department shouldn’t have to juggle added patrols of the Porter Ranch area against its other duties.
The motion also urged Southern California Gas to provide daily payments to people who could not be immediately moved to comparable housing, compensate people who moved in with family members, provide added assistance for the elderly or disabled, boost food allowances, hire professional cleaners and maintenance crews to keep property in shape, and stop billing affected residents for gas, among other requests.
The council approved the motion, 12 to 1, with Councilman Felipe Fuentes opposing. Fuentes said he was concerned about whether all of the requests on the “exhaustive” list were immediately needed.
“This is a very long cleanup, so there'll be time for us to, I think, have a good conversation about whether we should try to seek additional reimbursements. ... I want to make sure that we’re being methodical about this,” Fuentes said.
Council members Mike Bonin and David Ryu were absent for the Tuesday vote. Southern California Gas did not immediately provide comment.
At the Tuesday meeting, council members also asked city officials and the county assessor to report on whether Porter Ranch residents affected by the leak could get tax relief. They also threw their support to a proposed county declaration of emergency.
County health officials say most of the gas leaking into the area is methane, which “does not pose a significant health risk” at existing levels.
But the leak is also emitting mercaptans -- smelly additives that are meant to help detect leaks -- that can temporarily cause nausea, dizziness and nosebleeds. Public health officials have also warned that natural gas contains small amounts of other chemicals that pose increasing health risks as the leak continues.
Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer is suing Southern California Gas over how it handled the leak, alleging that the company failed to immediately report the problem and was not properly prepared to stop it.

The company said it had taken immediate steps to address the leak and added that its highest priority was to safely and quickly stop it. The company has said it could take months to fix the leaking well. 
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