Gardiner police Chief James Toman, seen Friday outside Gardiner City Hall, was among the first officers on scene Nov. 15 after a caller reported an active shooter situation at Gardiner Area High School. The call was one of 10 similar hoax calls made to schools throughout the state, including to Winslow High School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Police Chief James Toman was down the street at Gardiner Regional Middle School  on Nov. 15 when a call came in to local police dispatch around 8:45 a.m. claiming there was “an active shooter” at Gardiner Area High School. 

Toman arrived at the high school in about a minute and then entered the building after putting on his bulletproof vest. By the time he made it through the doors, with his gun drawn, he had two other officers by his side. 

“At that time, we had no idea,” Toman told the Kennebec Journal recently. “I didn’t know about Sanford or anything like that. This was 100% a real thing that we were responding to, and we didn’t know anything.” 

Gardiner was among 10 Maine schools that day receiving hoax calls about an active shooter, which remains under investigation by the state police and FBI. Brunswick, Ellsworth, Fort Fairfield, Houlton, Portland, Rockland, Sanford, Winslow and Wiscasset all had high schools impacted by the event, drawing police responses and creating heart-wrenching confusion as authorities investigated the reports. 

Interviews with police officials and documents shed new light on the minute-by-minute response to the schools in Gardiner and Winslow, but other records are being withheld by authorities. The Kennebec Journal requested the 911 transcripts of the hoax calls made to Gardiner and Winslow police dispatch and other calls related to the situation, but the staff attorney for Maine State Police issued a blanket denial for those records by citing, among other reasons, the ongoing investigation by police. An attorney representing the newspaper has sent a follow-up request seeking redacted versions of those records and has not yet received a response. 

Even so, the new details by Toman and others are painting a fuller picture of how authorities responded to the calls at a time when they didn’t know they were hoaxes. The calls came against the backdrop of the May 24 shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old former student fatally shot 19 students and two teachers, and wounded many others.


Toman said police departments across the state previously were made aware of similar threats made across the country that ended up being hoaxes. He had that fact in mind as he made his way through the hallway and realized the nature of the situation did not match up to a real-life active shooter situation.

“There was not much commotion, but we were not going to take any chances,” Toman said. “ We went to that area where it was alleged to have occurred and based on observations of what we were seeing in that area, then coupled with no feeling in the building of hysteria, we came to the realization that there had not been an event.” 

Toman and other officers checked in with the main office and put the school into lockdown so no one could get in or leave. According to Toman, the person on the other end of the call posed as a teacher and said a shooter was in a specific section of the school. 

In the Gardiner police log that is released to the public on a weekly basis, the narrative states the caller alleged there was a shooter with “black pants, black jacket, white male with a long rifle. Caller is in room 100” and that “five students were injured.” 

Gardiner dispatch said in the same log entry, “caller has an accent, telling me the teacher is in the classroom,” and that the caller claimed “leg, hand and back injuries.” The dispatch said that when they tried to get more information from the caller, “he disconnected on me.”

Toman said around two-dozen first responders showed up on scene and in teams. They cleared each classroom of the high school. Students stayed in their rooms as the building was checked.  


Toman said his team was “well equipped” to handle the situation. They have had extensive training to deal with a situation such as this one and said the only thing they’d improve on is communication. 

“In Maine, we are not going to let that happen, what happened in other parts of the country happen in Maine. We are confident of that,” he said. 


Just before 9 a.m. on Nov. 15 in Winslow, police received a disturbing phone call from a person claiming to be a teacher at the high school, saying a shooting was taking place.

Though Winslow police took the call seriously, Lt. Bradley Hubert said it immediately raised suspicions, too. 

Hubert said the person had called the police department’s business line instead of dialing 911, and from a blocked number. Both of those facts were red flags, presumably because these added steps take time that someone in a life-threatening situation would not have to waste, Hubert said. 


An administrative assistant took the call and began asking the caller questions. 

“The responses to those questions were not aligning with things that would make sense if an actual incident was happening,” Hubert said. 

He said the caller was either unable to or was not willing to volunteer information the dispatcher asked for. Despite their claim to being a teacher, they would not give their name and could not say what classroom they were in.

After speaking with the person, the dispatcher quickly phoned Ellen Stewart, Winslow’s school resource officer. Stewart was in her office at the time, which Hubert explained is in a wing of the high school. The building Stewart happened to be in was where the shooting was supposedly happening. 

“So she immediately jumped up and checked on that wing and did not find any threats,” Hubert said.

Stewart was not available for comment for this story, but Hubert said that she was able to determine the shooting was a hoax within 10 minutes of the call coming in. 


Though Hubert said the police department sent a couple officers to the high school to check everything out, it was confirmed there was no credible threat to the campus, and no reported suspicious activity. As with a handful of other towns and cities statewide, the person calling had filed a false report. 

Winslow Superintendent Peter Thiboutot said in an email to parents that Stewart will be working with local and state authorities to monitor developments in the case.


Pat Hopkins, the superintendent of Maine School Administrative District 11, which includes Gardiner Area High School, told the board of directors on Dec. 1 that the response from law enforcement was “impressive.” Chief Toman said if the threat had been real, “lives would have been saved” based on the training students in the district had.

The response from staff and students was that they “knew what to do,” largely because of ALICE training with Principal Chad Kempton. ALICE — which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate — is a training program to prepare people for an active shooter situation.

Trained students and staffers locked the doors, hid and turned the lights out. 


Students had the option to leave after the event and Hopkins said around 80% to 90% of students left with their parents. The remainder stayed at school, which Hopkins said she felt good about because otherwise the students would have gone home to an empty house.  

The school’s doors were open for those who needed support. 

“While it was a hoax, it was not a hoax. It was real. What we felt was real; it was really terrorism,” Hopkins said.  

The student representative to the school board, Alyssa Henderson, said she spoke with a student from each grade level and that while it was scary, they were pleased to have had the training to respond to such an event. 

“A senior I spoke with said it was scary, of course, but that ALICE training had a lot of benefits, and they knew what to do. They were thankful for that,” Henderson said. 


Both Hopkins and Toman said their departments learned to improve on communication in the future.

“I wasn’t thinking at the time, ‘I need to notify parents,’” said Hopkins, adding that it is something they will consider for any potential future emergency. 


Several high schools across New Hampshire on Thursday received similar active shooter threats and went into lockdown until police determined it was a hoax, Seacoast Online reported.

The threats have been trending across the country and reporting from NPR in October showed that most of the threats originate outside of the country. It was reported that 182 schools across 28 states received false active shooter 911 calls between Sept. 13 and Oct. 21. 

Authorities have not indicated where the Maine threats originated, but officials in the area have since described the calls as an “act of terrorism,” and Gardiner Area High School students called on lawmakers to provide safety measures to keep students and others safe.

There are no specific guidelines for schools across the state to host active shooter training, but the state Department of Education has a Maine School Safety Center with the resources needed for teachers and school administrators to be versed in emergency response. The Augusta Police Department took its own initiative and hosted active shooter training this summer.

In a statement Friday, an FBI spokesperson said the federal agency “is aware of the numerous swatting incidents wherein a report of an active shooter at a school is made and is working alongside our law enforcement partners in identifying the source of the hoax threats.”

“Due to the ongoing investigation, we are unable to provide more details. However, it is important to note that law enforcement is going to use all available resources to investigate a school threat until we determine whether it is real or not,” according to the FBI statement. “Investigating hoax threats drains law enforcement resources and diverts us from responding to an actual crisis. Hoax threats can shut down schools, cause undue stress and fear to the public, and cost taxpayers a lot of money, not to mention ruin the future of those making the hoax threats as they’ll likely have a criminal record.”

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