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'Hoax' shooting calls reported at colleges across Tampa Bay area

Similar false active shooter calls were reported at campuses across South Florida, including Florida International University and Indian River State College.

SARASOTA, Fla. — Authorities across South Florida responded Tuesday afternoon to what is being investigated as false reports of shootings at several college campuses, including at least two in the Tampa Bay area.

South Florida State College said in a tweet that the sheriff's office received a call Tuesday morning about a shooting on its Highlands County campus. Responding deputies were quickly able to confirm that "NO SHOOTING had occurred," the college wrote.  

"Other colleges received the same hoax message," a follow-up tweet reads.

The Manatee County Sheriff's Office and campus police responded to a similar situation just after 11:15 a.m. at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus.

According to the sheriff's office, several students taking final exams on campus were evacuated while deputies searched each floor of the main building and determined there was no shooter.

"This appears to be part of a state-wide swatting hoax at Florida colleges," the sheriff's office wrote in a tweet.

Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells and campus police held a news conference Tuesday afternoon to give an update on their investigation.

"The message is this, you're going to jail if we find you. This is not a joke," Wells said. "This is putting lives at stake."

He explained around $100,000 of the sheriff's office's resources were used to clear the campus and ensure all the students were safe. 

Other calls about active shooters, later determined by authorities to be a "hoax" were reported at several other colleges, including Florida International University, Indian River State College, Palm Beach Atlantic University and Florida Atlantic University.

"Swatting" is considered an extreme tactic meant to deceive emergency service dispatchers into sending a large number of law enforcement officers to a particular location. 

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