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School staffer, 52, suspected of ‘swatting’ campus in San Diego County

Google street view of Rancho Buena Vista High School.
Officials say a 52-year-old staff member of Rancho Buena Vista High School is scheduled to be arraigned next month in connection with a Jan. 13 “swatting” incident in Vista, Calif.
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A staff member at a San Diego County high school was identified as a suspect after a threat was called in to the school in January, prompting a temporary lockdown, sheriff’s officials said Thursday.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said investigators “developed probable cause to arrest” the 52-year-old staff member in connection with the Jan. 13 incident at Rancho Buena Vista High School in Vista.

Although the staffer was not arrested, investigators forwarded the information to the district attorney’s office for potential prosecution, according to a news release. The employee is scheduled to be arraigned in Superior Court on March 7. Charges, if any, will be announced at that time.

A school district official said Friday that the employee had resigned.

Vista Unified School District Supt. Matt Doyle sent a letter to parents Thursday calling the incident an alleged “swatting” — a type of prank in which someone makes a false report to law enforcement, prompting them to send officers or deputies, including SWAT teams, to someone’s address.

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Doyle said the unsubstantiated threat was the latest in a series of incidents in recent months at Rancho Buena Vista High School. At no point were staff or students in danger, he said.

According to the Sheriff’s Department, deputies were notified of an anonymous threat of violence made at the high school just before 8:30 a.m. Jan. 13. The school was placed on “secure campus” status, meaning students and staff were kept indoors while authorities searched for evidence of a threat.

A school resource deputy, station deputies and detectives swept the campus, Sgt. Alfred Gathings said in a news release. The school was later deemed safe and classes resumed.

Investigators determined that the anonymous caller had made the threat using a cellphone app to disguise where they were calling from, Gathings said in the release. They located the origin of the call and determined the caller was a staff member.

“The safety of our school children is a priority for the Sheriff’s Department and we take all such threats seriously,” sheriff’s officials said in a statement. “In recent months, the Vista Sheriff’s Station has responded to several school threats. Multiple suspects were identified in these cases.”

Doyle called the news that a district employee was suspected of making the threat “disturbing and alarming” and that the district would support the legal consequences levied against perpetrators.

“This type of behavior has no place in our school district and will never be tolerated,” Doyle said.

Union-Tribune staff writer Teri Figueroa contributed to this report.

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