CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Bomb threat at SLC’s Jewish Community Center forces two hour shelter in place

Sep 11, 2023, 1:22 PM | Updated: 2:04 pm

front of jewish community center, jcc that got bomb threat -- Salt Lake City Police said about 100 ...

The I.J. and Jeanne Wagner Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Police said about 100 people at Salt Lake City’s Jewish Community Center, JCC, had to shelter in place for over two hours Saturday after a bomb threat was called into the city’s 911 dispatch. Police found no evidence of a bomb but are continuing to investigate the call.

One woman who experienced the ordeal shared her story with KSL NewsRadio.

“The lifeguard came over and said we need to shelter in place, that’s all the information we have,” said the woman, who wanted to keep her name anonymous.

She was swimming at the JCC with her husband and four kids when they were then shepherded to the women’s and men’s locker rooms, respectively.

Two hours with sparse information

Little did she know she’d spend the next two hours separated from her husband and four boys with about 40 women and children — only getting sparse information about what was happening outside. She said the lifeguards would come in periodically, updating them with what they could.

The women passed the time trying to keep the children fed and entertained. She said her husband was texting her that the men were playing hide-and-seek games in the lockers with the kids. She credited the young lifeguards who she said handled the situation well. 

The woman provided the photo below of her son playing hide-and-seek during the shelter-in-place.

“We didn’t have a lot of resources… [the lifeguards] found a stack of towels… somehow they found a bag of otter pops and were handing them out to people… they were trying to keep us informed with as much information as they could.”

The woman said the lifeguards even found a laptop to put on a movie for the kids. But by hour two, the woman said she became pretty anxious. Many of the people had just left the pool area quickly with no phones, or their bags on them.

“I was pretty anxious… but people were just so calm, nobody was fighting it, we all just hung out and… all things considered, it was a nice moment to bond with these women and talk.”

A bomb threat to the JCC

What the woman didn’t know was that someone was making threats against the JCC to Salt Lake City’s 911 dispatch center. That prompted police to warn the JCC.

Police also called in bomb units and bomb-sniffing K-9s to investigate, according to SLCPD Spokesman Brent Weisberg.

University of Utah Police also responded to the scene, as did “a few members” of the bomb squad.

According to Weisberg, it wasn’t a full call-out.  The University of Utah Hospital was also impacted via roads that were shut down but Weisberg said the hospital was able to operate normally.

“I don’t know where the call originated from, that’s part of our ongoing investigation,” said Weisberg. “But they did use technology to hide their exact phone number or the IP address.”

Weisberg said they’re investigating it as a possible “swatting” event, which is a hoax call that pulls in a significant amount of police and other resources.

But Weisberg said police don’t like calling it a hoax because it minimizes the amount of resources that it took to make sure everything was safe.

“A hoax implies there’s less severity. This is a very serious situation,” Weisberg said, adding “We always go into these situations as if they’re real.”

“We’ve seen that happen across the county where people will call into the dispatch center to make a claim to direct a lot of resources to a particular area,” added Weisberg.

Weisberg said police searched the JCC and surrounding neighborhoods for packages or suspicious items but found nothing. Once airport bomb-sniffing K-9s cleared the area, the woman and the others still in the locker rooms were allowed to leave.

“This is something we train for regularly,” said Weisberg. “Unfortunately, it is something we do have to plan for as a law enforcement agency.”

JCC reached out to its community

The woman stuck in the locker room also provided an email the JCC sent to community members apologizing for the ordeal. It said they had received notice of the threat from SLCPD.

“Police dispatch had received a call from someone claiming to have placed a bomb outside our Jewish Community Center,” the email read. “Given the recent increase in these incidents of hoax calls about emergency situations at a wide range of institutions around the nation, SLCPD believed this was a hoax but they instructed JCC staff and members in the building and at the pool to shelter in place.”

The letter went on to the credit police for their thorough investigation and apologized to its members for any stress and inconvenience.

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Bomb threat at SLC’s Jewish Community Center forces two hour shelter in place