Los Angeles Schools Set to Reopen After Threat Prompted Closure

A mother escorts her children on to the campus of Beethoven Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, California December 16, 2015. REUTERS/JONATHAN ALCORN

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Public schools in Los Angeles were set to reopen on Wednesday, a day after local officials canceled classes for some 640,000 students in the nation’s second-largest school district over a threatened attack with bombs and guns later deemed a hoax.

Authorities conducted an extensive search of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s more than 1,000 schools and by late Tuesday said the buildings were secure and students were safe to return.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said extra police officers would be deployed at city schools on Wednesday in part to manage jitters following the closure. Officials also said they distributed materials to teachers intended to help them discuss the disruption with students.

The emailed threat, which authorities said was routed through Germany but likely originated locally, came nearly two weeks after a married couple inspired by Islamic State fatally shot 14 people and wounded 22 others at a county office building 60 miles (100 km) away in San Bernardino.

A similar email was sent to New York City’s public schools though officials dismissed it as a hoax and kept campuses open.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said an investigation was in its early stages.

“Whether it’s criminal mischief, whether it’s somebody testing vulnerabilities of multiple cities, we still do not know enough to say definitively,” Garcetti told a news conference on Tuesday.

Beck defended the school district’s decision to keep students and staff home out of an abundance of caution.

“It is very easy in hindsight to criticize the decision based on results that the decider could never have known,” Beck said.

New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton and federal officials who asked not to be identified described the decision in Los Angeles as an overreaction.

The threat, emailed late on Monday night, came from someone who claimed to be a devout Muslim prepared to launch an attack at multiple schools using bombs, nerve gas and rifles, Brad Sherman, a Democratic U.S. congressman from California, told the New York Times.

The United States has experienced a series of attacks at schools in recent years. The deadliest one in the past decade occurred in 2007 at Virginia Tech, where a student gunman killed 32 people.

In the second deadliest, a gunman in 2012 shot dead 20 young children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Additional reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Catherine Evans and Will Dunham)