HARLINGEN — Police are calling it a diversionary tactic. Hoaxers phoned in to report a crime so they could take off the heat as they robbed a pawn shop, police said.
Instead of calling in a bomb threat, the criminals called in a report of an “active shooter” at Harlingen High School South about 9:30 a.m. yesterday, police said. Meanwhile, the pawn shop was being robbed.
Three suspects have been arrested. At the home of one of them, police found about five bulletproof vests, a sniper rifle, four shotguns, two pistols, assorted ammunition and other weapons, Officer Larry Moore said.
The fake call prompted about a 45-minute lockdown of both Harlingen high schools, worrying parents and students.
“I was in the cafeteria taking senior class pictures,” said Alyssa Torres, 17. “Everyone was worried, texting parents and loved ones.”
Being in the cafeteria left the students wide open to the unexpected. In the cafeteria, Torres said they were surrounded by windows and open hallways.
Anything could have happened.
“If there was an actual shooter, there was nowhere we could go,” she said.
That’s when the group sprang into action and formed a prayer circle.
The students prayed for everyone in the cafeteria and everyone in the school.
“It calmed most of us down,” Torres said.
While officers responded to the school, they received a call about a robbery in progress at the Amigo Pawn & Jewelry shop on Loop 499.
Police said two men entered the pawn shop wearing masks and hooded shirts. One man was holding a gun while the other man was holding a hammer.
The man with the hammer broke the glass counter and started removing jewelry. They also stole the truck of a customer.
Two men and a female accomplice are currently in police custody awaiting arraignment, police said.
The three were arrested in connection with the robbery and for making a false threat against the school, police said.
Police are working to connect the hoax with the robbery suspects. The case is still active and remains under investigation.
Police said they will release information as it becomes available. The identity of the suspects will be released at a later time, probably today after they are arraigned, police said.
Hoax or not, the incident spurred fear in most, prompting questioning text messages from terrified parents — so much so that several took their kids home for the day.
Senior Lily Garcia, 17, took cover in her Physics classroom’s supply room. The door was locked, lights were turned off and everyone was told to stay quiet.
By this time, Garcia was receiving several text messages from several people.
“Someone’s shooting? Bombs?”
“My phone signal was bad. I kept thinking, ‘What is actually going on,’” she said. “My dad was really worried and still is.”
At the time of the lockdown, Mia Olivares, 17, was in the girls locker room dressing out for athletics.
Surrounded by about 200 other girls, and just two coaches, the girls had to huddle down in the locker room and wait the lockdown out, unsure of what was going on outside.
Some girls hid in the showers and some hid in the toilet stalls, she said.
Many were frightened.
“We were told to remain quiet and we turned off our phones so we wouldn’t draw attention to ourselves,” Olivares said.
The girls had no way of knowing whether they were secure in the locker room. Their coaches did everything they could to reassure them of their safety.
At the start of the lockdown, Garcia thought it was just a drill.
As time went on, Garcia realized it wasn’t a drill. The threat was real to the girls huddled in the locker room.
“When they said to remain quiet, we didn’t know what to do,” Garcia said.
So they prayed.