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L.A. Unified defends decision to close schools amid criticism

Los Angeles officials on Tuesday defended the decision to close schools after receiving a "credible threat" of violence involving backpacks and packages left at campuses.

The statements from city and school officials at a news conference came as New York authorities said they had received a similar threat to their schools but concluded that it was not credible and decided to keep campuses open.

"These threats are made to promote fear. ... We cannot allow us to raise the levels of fear," New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton tweeted. "We are very comfortable that this is not a credible threat."

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said at the news conference: "I think it's irresponsible, based on facts that have yet to be determined, to criticize that decision. All of us make tough choices. All of us have the same goal in mind, to keep the kids safe."

In a briefing to Police Commissioners on Tuesday afternoon, Beck described the emails that he said multiple members of the school board received Monday night.

The threat was very broad, the chief said, but also specific: It named all of the LAUSD schools, implying high schools were the primary target. The attack would happen Tuesday, the email said. It claimed explosives had already been planted and, after they went off, people “with ISIS connections” would use AK-47s and other guns “to cause further loss of life.”

“It was also in very good English – which is not a good sign,” Beck said in an interview after the meeting. “Most of the hoaxes that I see … have syntax errors, a lot of incomplete sentences, non-sequiturs. So that concerned me.”

Beck said the LAPD advised district officials before they weighed whether schools would stay open, but stressed it was their call to make. He declined to say what he would have done had he been tasked with the same decision.

“It’s easy to second-guess decision-makers when you don’t have to live with the consequences of the decision,” he said. “These decisions are not something you get to do over again if you turn out to be wrong.”

LAUSD threat live updates: 'Credible threat' closes all schools>>

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the emailed threats there were “so generic, so outlandish” that they couldn’t be taken seriously. The threat was addressed to multiple school systems simultaneously and had wording choice and misspellings that suggested it was a hoax, he said.

“It would be a huge disservice to our nation to close down our school system,” De Blasio said.

It remains unclear whether the threats to the New York schools and those in Los Angeles came from the same source.

The L.A. threat appeared to come from Germany, according to one source with knowledge of the matter. However, a second law enforcement source cautioned that officials are still trying to determine exactly where the threat came from. 

Parents, how are you feeling about the school threats? >>

The L.A. threat was made in electronic form to numerous but unspecified campuses, officials said. As a result, authorities made the decision to close all Los Angeles Unified school campuses for the day.

“I think it’s important to take this precaution based on what has happened recently and what has happened in the past,” said Ramon Cortines, superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also addressed the decision to close L.A. schools during a news conference.

"Local officials are ultimately responsible for making the decision
they believe, based on their knowledge of the community, makes the most sense and is consistent with their judgment about the best way to protect the community,'' Earnest said. 

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said in a statement the threat appears to be a hoax.

"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," Schiff said.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

2:13 p.m.: Updated with Schiff quote.

11:40 a.m.: This article has been updated from comments from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

10:25 a.m. This article has been updated with quotes from Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.

This article was originally published at 9:32 a.m.

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