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Terror threat shuts down schools across Los Angeles

Public schools in Los Angeles -- 1,200 in all -- were closed after a threatening email from Germany warned of mass violence, from guns to bombs to nerve gas. Officials in New York say they received a similar message, but discounted it as a hoax, leaving schools open. Gwen Ifill reports.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Public schools across Los Angeles went dark today, shuttered by the fear of a terror strike. It came in the form of an e-mail that warned of mass violence.

    The threat brought the Los Angeles Unified School District, covering 600 square miles, to a halt. All 1,200 schools were shut down before classes started for the day. Many of the 640,000 students were forced to turn around and head home.

    And Superintendent Ramon Cortines hastily convened a news conference.

  • RAMON CORTINES, Superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District:

    I think it is important that I take the precaution based on what has happened recently and what has happened in the past.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Cortines was referring to the rampage two weeks ago in nearby San Bernardino, where a married couple, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people at a holiday party.

    As L.A. police fanned out and began checking schools today, officials said the e-mailed threat came from Germany and mentioned everything from guns to bombs to nerve gas.

    For many parents, it was unnerving.

  • MAN:

    Well, if it's real, watching from what happened in San Bernardino, that's pretty close to home. And now this one here, even closer, that's kind of scary.

  • WOMAN:

    Confusion, chaos, nervousness. You're not certain of what's going on, what's entailed behind it. So, there's a lot of different emotions behind that.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Meanwhile, officials in New York City said they received a similar, if not the same, message. They discounted it as a hoax, possibly based on a television show.

  • WILLIAM BRATTON, New York City Police Commissioner:

    The language in the e-mail would lead us to believe that this is not a jihadist initiative, for example, that Allah wasn't spelled with a capital A. That would be incredible to think that any jihadist wouldn't spell Allah with a capital A.

    I think the initiator, the instigator of the threat may be a "Homeland" fan, basically watching "Homeland" episodes, that it mirrors a lot of recent episodes on "Homeland."

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Moreover, Mayor Bill de Blasio argued it's vital to keep schools open and not overreact.

  • MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, New York:

    It's very important to realize there are people who want us to fundamentally change our lifestyle and our values, and we will never give in to that.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    As the hours ticked by, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pushed back at criticism it was wrong to close L.A. schools.

  • MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI, Los Angeles:

    We will continue to hope that this is nothing and that our children can be back at school tomorrow. But, as a parent and as a mayor, certainly, I am here to support this school district as it seeks our help to ensure that we can look at each one of these campuses and make sure that they are safe for all of our children.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The search and the investigation continued into the evening, assisted by the FBI.

    The White House said it wouldn't second guess the decision in Los Angeles, but a congressman from the area, Adam Schiff, said it now appears the threat was indeed a hoax.

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