PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. – Thousands of students in the nation's sixth-largest school district spent hours locked in their classrooms Wednesday after an unidentified woman called a South Florida radio station and said her husband might go to a campus and open fire with a gun.
The lockdown of all 300 Broward County schools was ordered after WFTL 850 AM employees found the station had earlier been sent an e-mail, perhaps by the husband, saying "something big was going to happen," possibly at a post office or a school, said Pembroke Pines Police Capt. Daniel Rakofsky. The district has nearly 257,000 students, who were let go at their normal time.
The man who sent the e-mail felt a connection to the politically charged and sometimes incendiary opinions of the station's conservative radio talk show host, Joyce Kaufman, who is Republican U.S. Rep.-elect Allen West's new chief of staff.
Kaufman hosts a live, afternoon call-in show. The police captain wouldn't say exactly what the writer of the e-mails seemed to connect with. But in recent years, Kaufman has made negative comments about illegal immigrants and Muslims. That included that she didn't like that children of illegal immigrants attended public schools.
"He seemed to identify with many of her comments and restated them as part of the language that we took as threatening," Rakofsky said.
He said the messages were "the rantings of a very extreme out-of-control person."
Broward school Superintendent James Notter said the threat included hate words, apparently against certain ethnic and religious groups.
The investigation has expanded statewide and numerous local, state and federal agencies have become involved, Rakofsky said.
Authorities have not made contact with the man or his wife, but say they are close. Rakofsky said they are trying to find out if they are real people or if they're posing as someone else.
Calls to the station to talk to Kaufman rang to an after-hours recording. A phone number listed for Kaufman was disconnected and a message was left at the main number for West's campaign.
The lockdown had some parents nervously going to the schools, but they were not allowed to get their children. Some schools were guarded by officers in bulletproof vests.
"We're just nervous, scared," said Inez Hernandez, who waited outside Charles W. Flanagan High School, where he 15-year-old son is a student. "We don't know what's going to happen."
By early afternoon, police said they had determined that the threat had "diminished" and the students were dismissed, although with a heavier police presence. All after-school activities were canceled.
Rakofsky would not say why investigators believed the threat level had been reduced.
Kobi Deculit, 13, a student at McArthur High School, said students remained in their second period classes and weren't allowed to eat lunch or use cell phones.
"They were asking, 'Why is this happening?'" he said of the students. "Are we going to be stuck here all day?"
He said none of the students were scared or crying, and weren't told what had happened until the end of the day.