Jonathan Alcorn / Reuters

LA schools to open Wednesday; were closed due to credible ‘threat’

Authorities defend move to keep 640,000 students kept as other cities dismiss similar email threats as a hoax

Los Angeles schools will open on Wednesday after they were closed “in an abundance of caution” Tuesday because authorities received what was described as a credible terror threat via email —resulting in more than half a million children being kept home.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the FBI has concluded it wasn't a credible threat, adding the motivation for the email remains a mystery.

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines said on Tuesday morning, that the move to shutter schools came in the light of a heightened concern following recent mass shootings and a terror attack in San Bernardino, California.

It is “important that I take the precaution based on what has happened recently and what has happened in the past,” he said.

Cortines said the threat did not relate to "one school, two schools or three schools. It was many schools, not specifically identified."

That's the reason I took the action that I did," he said.

The threat reportedly came from someone who claimed to be a bullied student and referenced Islam, explosive devises and assault rifles. Congressman Brad Sherman, D-Calif., told CNN that the person who sent the email claimed to be Muslim, but said the text of the message gave reason to doubt that.

But some criticized the decision to close the city's schools, including New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, whose city also received a threat on Tuesday that was not deemed credible. Bratton said he believed that email was "almost exactly the same" as the one sent to Los Angeles.

"L.A. is a huge school system," said Bratton, who previously served as that city's police chief. "To disrupt the daily schedules of half a million school children, their parents, day care, buses based on an anonymous email, without consultation, if in fact, consultation did not occur with law enforcement authorities, I think it was a significant overreaction."

But Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck batted down criticism of Cortines' decision to close schools.

“It is very easy in hindsight to criticize a decision based on results that the decider could never have known. It is also very easy to criticize a decision when you have no responsibility for the outcome of that decision," Beck said. 

Beck said a "very specific threat" was "delievered via email" to members of the school board and that authorities in LA became "very concerned" and "contacted the FBI" before the decision to close the schools was ultimately made. However, a law enforcement source cited by Reuters says LA authorities never consulted with the FBI on the specific decision to shutter the schools. 

The decision in Los Angeles to close all the schools in the district was made “in an abundance of caution,” said Los Angeles Unified School District Police Chief Steven Zipperman, adding that the threat was an “electronic” one without giving further details. 

Cortines said the district police chief informed him about the threat shortly after 5 a.m.

Police officials said that the FBI had been notified and that the threat was still in the process of being analyzed and that schools would remain closed until they can be determined to be safe. 

The district, the second largest in the nation, has 640,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade and more than 900 schools and 187 public charter schools.

The district spans 720 square miles including Los Angeles and all or part of more than 30 smaller cities and some unincorporated areas.

Al Jazeera and wire services. Philip J. Victor contributed to this report.

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