A wave of bomb threats emailed Thursday to hundreds of schools, businesses and government buildings across the U.S. triggered searches, evacuations and fear — but there were no signs of explosives, and authorities said the scare appeared to be a crude extortion attempt.
Law enforcement agencies across the country dismissed the threats, saying they were meant to cause disruption and compel recipients into sending money and were not considered credible.
In Illinois, Rochelle Community Hospital was one organization targeted. Officials from the hospital say the threat was received around noon Thursday. Non-essential personnel and visitors were asked to evacuate. The Rochelle police department brought in a bomb dog and declared the building safe by 2:30.
The Winnebago County Sheriff's Department also responded to two separate bomb threats sent by email Thursday afternoon. Aurora City Hall was evacuated after receiving a threat. Police in Chicago, Peoria County, and Champaign/Urbana also reported local businesses and organizations receiving similar threats.
Some of the emails had the subject line: "Think Twice." They were sent from a spoofed email address. The sender claimed to have had an associate plant a small bomb in the recipient's building and that the only way to stop him from setting it off was by making an online payment of $20,000 in Bitcoin.
"We are currently monitoring multiple bomb threats that have been sent electronically to various locations throughout the city," the New York City Police Department's counterterrorism unit tweeted. "These threats are also being reported to other locations nationwide & are NOT considered credible at this time."
Other law enforcement agencies also dismissed the threats, which were written in a choppy style reminiscent of the Nigerian prince email scam.
The Palm Beach County, Florida, sheriff's office and the Boise, Idaho, police said they had no reason to believe that threats made to locations in those areas were credible. One of the emails wound up in a spam filter, Boise Police Chief William Bones said.
The FBI said it is assisting law enforcement agencies that are dealing with the threats.
"As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activities which could represent a threat to public safety," the FBI said in a statement.
Thursday's scare came less than two months after prominent Democratic officials and CNN's Manhattan offices were targeted with package bombs. The suspect in that case, Cesar Sayoc, is in jail while awaiting trial.
"Organizations nationwide, both public and private, have reported receiving emailed bomb threats today," Michigan State Police spokeswoman Shannon Banner said. "They are not targeted toward any one specific sector."
Penn State University notified students via a text alert about threats to a half-dozen buildings and an airport on its main campus in State College, Pennsylvania. In an update, the school said the threat appeared to be part of a "national hoax."
WNIJ's Chase Cavanaugh and Claire Buchanan contributed to this report.