An officer watches as students walk in to Sanford Memorial Gym after being bused there from Sanford High School because of a report of an active shooter on Nov. 15. Law enforcement officials across the state are refusing to release transcripts of the 911 calls reporting the threats to Sanford and nine other Maine schools on Nov. 15, 2022. Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald file

Maine public safety officials are refusing to release transcripts of the school shooter hoax calls phoned into multiple law enforcement agencies across the state in November. 

After over three months of pushback in response to records requests made by the Kennebec Journal, federal and state officials are also refusing to specify their reasoning for denying access to relevant documents, other than claiming broadly that the release of these records would compromise an ongoing investigation.

That decision has drawn concern from First Amendment advocates across New England, who say this information is important to understanding the response to the situation, which included deploying armed police at high schools from Sanford to Fort Fairfield as thousands of students and teachers sheltered in their classrooms and cafeterias in fear for their lives. 

The Maine Department of Public Safety initially oversaw the statewide investigation and has jurisdiction over several of the transcripts, including the threat to Gardiner Area High School. Paul Cavanaugh, attorney for the department, said the denial — even of redacted copies that hide sensitive information  follows the written orders of both the Maine Attorney General’s Office and the FBI, which is now leading the investigation. 

The agencies also will not provide redacted copies of their letters instructing Cavanaugh not to release the transcripts, saying the information in those correspondences would also jeopardize the investigation. 

The blanket refusal to release any records reignites ongoing concerns about the lack of transparency around police investigations in Maine. And public access advocates warn that the decision — one of the first sweeping records denials during Cavanaugh’s tenure with the Department of Public Safety — could set a dangerous precedent.  



On Nov. 15, multiple law enforcement agencies across the state received false calls that active shooters had begun firing at high schools in Gardiner, Winslow, Portland, Wiscasset, Ellsworth, Sanford, Brunswick, Fort Fairfield, Houlton and Rockland. 

Districts that spoke out about the event called the so-called swatting incidents acts of terrorism. 

Parents wait outside Sanford Memorial Gym to pick up students who were bused there after a report of an active shooter at Sanford High School on Nov. 15. The report turned out to be a hoax call, one of many made about 10 Maine schools on Nov. 15, 2022.  Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald file

The day after the reports, the Kennebec Journal requested the 911 call transcripts of the Gardiner hoax call and calls from students, teachers and other members of the community that could have provided insight into the panic and distress it caused and allow the public to evaluate how well first responders did their job.  

Though the situation did not result in the loss of life, it tested the capacity of local law enforcement — in both rural and urban parts of the state — to respond to multiple simultaneous school shootings.

In Aroostook County, a tactical unit like the one activated in Sanford is not “readily available” if an actual shooting were to happen, said Timothy DeLuca, Houlton’s police chief. 


Thom Harnett, who represented Gardiner and Farmingdale in the Maine House of Representatives and chaired the Right to Know Advisory Committee said public documents that can shed light on situations like the hoax calls should be released when requested. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Maine is among 33 states that, since the 1980s, have not had a mass shooting at a school. The state does not require schools to have active shooter training, though some schools have taken the initiative to host or participate in one. 

The release of 911 transcripts in the wake of tragedies such as the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, have allowed communities to hold their public safety officials to account for their response and identify where improvements need to be made. 

Thom Harnett said public documents that can shed light on such situations should be released when requested. Harnett is the former mayor of Gardiner and chaired the Right to Know Advisory Committee during his time in the Maine House of Representatives. That committee meets regularly to provide guidance on Maine’s Freedom of Access laws, recommend policy changes and educate state agencies on best practices when it comes to public access.  

Asked whether he agrees with the decision, Harnett would only say he thought Cavanaugh is doing what “he thinks is best.” Even so, Harnett said his concern relates to “the premise that all public records are public unless confidential.”

“If state or municipalities just say it’s ‘confidential’ and (don’t explain why) it could possibly lead to an increase in litigation,” Harnett said. “People … will have no choice but to follow (with) a lawsuit if they can’t get any additional information.”



To date, authorities have been tight-lipped about developments in the case. No criminal complaints have been issued, and no arrests have been made. 

A spokesperson for the Boston bureau of the FBI, Kristin Setera, will not reveal whether the agency has identified any suspects, or if the threats originated in Maine or elsewhere. She also will not confirm if the threats were related to similar hoax calls in at least 34 other states, as recently as Feb. 22 in Colorado.  

While the Kennebec Journal’s records requests were pending, several local police departments did shed light on the details of what happened that day. The newspaper’s attorney, Sig Schutz, said this makes it particularly difficult to understand how the release of the transcripts could cause harm or foil the investigation severely enough to justify concealment of the records. 

The Gardiner Police Department said its caller told dispatchers five students had been shot in a specific wing of the school. Winslow said the caller posed as a teacher who said a shooting was underway at the high school. Sanford confirmed its call came from an internet phone number using Voice Over Internet Protocol, software that allows people to make calls over their personal computer instead of using a cellphone. 

Communications centers and police departments across the state also confirmed that at least five of the calls were 911 calls fielded by dispatchers while at least three were directly dialed to local departments’ non-recorded administrative lines.  

The Department of Public Safety initially confirmed it had a recording of the Gardiner threat — which was one of the calls phoned into 911 — and “can make a transcript,” but Cavanaugh said the agency would then have to “review it to see what information should be redacted.”


Paul Cavanaugh, attorney for the Department of Public Safety, has denied access to 911 transcripts tied to the school shooter hoax calls made in November. Cavanaugh, seen in March 2017, was previously an assistant district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Then, the agency reversed course and issued a blanket denial for the transcript, saying the entire transcript is confidential under Maine’s Intelligence and Investigative Record Information Act. 

The Department of Public Safety oversees the communications center that answers 911 calls made within Gardiner. The agency would not even check whether it had received calls from within the high school because, if it did, Cavanaugh said, they also would be entirely confidential.

“In an effort at full disclosure, I have not asked staff to scour our records to see if we have such records as I concluded they would not be provided. I am assuming there must have been such calls, but I cannot confirm there actually were (nor can I confirm there were not),” Cavanaugh wrote on Dec. 1. 

Schutz, the Kennebec Journal’s attorney, called Cavanaugh’s stance “an extremely aggressive pro-secrecy position, which is very likely unlawful.”  

At one point, Cavanaugh also said he could have denied the request based on how quickly it was made. Since the Kennebec Journal made the request “less than 24 hours after the events in question” and state law “does not require an agency to create records that do not exist,” Cavanaugh wrote in a Dec. 15 email that he “could have simply replied that we had no records responsive” to the request.  

He said he opted not do that “since I am new here and hoping for a cordial, professional (even good) working relationship with the reporters” making public records requests.  


While Maine’s Freedom of Access Act generally does not require agencies to create records that do not already exist, legislators in 1997 developed a specific exemption for 911 transcripts, requiring them to be created on request while largely shielding the audio recordings. The Department of Public Safety has an order form for such transcripts on its website. 

“A request for a 911 transcript cannot be denied on the basis that no transcript exists,” Schutz said. “The request for a transcript was entirely proper, whether made the minute after the call, the next day or at any time.” 

Cavanaugh began serving as the state police attorney in August 2022 and was previously an assistant district attorney in Kennebec and Somerset counties. 


A unanimous 2013 Maine Supreme Judicial Court decision ruled that the state cannot withhold 911 transcripts, regardless of the status of an investigation, without describing the specific harms the release of the information would cause in each case — even in homicide cases. 

The transcript released because of that decision helped to shed light on the adequacy of law enforcement’s response to the killing of two teenagers in Biddeford and prompted federal civil rights and wrongful death lawsuits against the city’s police department.  


After the Kennebec Journal pressed Cavanaugh to provide more specific reasons for his denial of the Gardiner hoax transcript, Cavanaugh wrote on Feb. 9 that “releasing transcripts, redacted or otherwise … would prematurely reveal the scope, nature and direction of the government’s case which could afford the subject the opportunity to destroy evidence or change his/her modus operandi. This would impede the agency’s ability to further investigate, locate and apprehend the suspect.” 

At the advice of both the FBI and the Maine Attorney General’s office, he said, no part of the documents should be shared.  

“The email (from FBI spokesperson Setera) asking to not share the transcript includes the reasons they don’t want it shared, so I will not provide a copy of that, or the harm will not be avoided,” Cavanaugh wrote.  

The Kennebec Journal then on Feb. 13 made a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI for its email to Cavanaugh outlining the reasons the requested documents should not be shared, and the federal agency on Feb. 22 denied the request. The FBI wrote that such an email to a “third party individual” could involve “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” and the agency’s standard response to such requests “should not be taken to mean that records do, or do not, exist.” 

Every other request made by the Kennebec Journal for the 911 transcripts in possession of regional communications centers not overseen by the state Department of Public Safety was similarly rejected by officials who each said the reason for their denial had to do with the “active investigation.” 

Brenda Kielty, the state’s public access ombudsman, said Cavanaugh’s initial denial “raises concerns, and I would very much like to talk with Paul about his thinking on this.” She later said she asked Cavanaugh to reconsider his response but would not elaborate on her concerns.



Daniel Medwed, a professor at Northeastern University’s law school and School of Criminology & Criminal Justice, called the responses “(par) for the law enforcement course.” 

“These agencies often seem to try to evade public record disclosure through a web of hyper-technical procedural arguments plus the standard possible ‘interference with ongoing investigation’ policy claims,” he wrote in an email.  

But these concerns “can and should be resolved simply through redacting of any identifiable information,” he added, saying that information contained in the 911 hoax call transcripts is “a matter of public concern.” Even the number of calls made to emergency responders can provide crucial insights, not just in this scenario but for a number of important issues ranging from domestic disturbances to opioid use.  

Law enforcement officers in Maine have released such information during ongoing investigations before. For example, the Department of Public Safety released the 911 transcript reporting the 2011 disappearance of Ayla Reynolds, a Waterville 20-month-old, which has become the costliest state police investigation in Maine history. Personal details in the call made by her father, Justin DiPietro, were redacted in line with Maine’s access laws, but the rest of the call was made public even though, more than a decade later, the case is still open.

Justin Silverman, attorney and director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said the denial of the hoax call transcripts “violates FOAA” and that not everything on a police record, or 911 transcript, is confidential. There are parts, such as time the call was made, or where the call came into, that would not jeopardize an investigation. 

“This information should be released,” said Silverman. “You can’t withhold an entire document because it would be redacted. Redact what you can under the law and release everything else.” 

The FBI and the attorney general’s office declined to comment for this story. 

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