A virtual scam prompted the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office to place a Nipomo elementary school on lockdown Friday morning after an unknown man claimed he’d kidnapped a student.
Dorothea Lange Elementary School, 1661 Via Alta Mesa, was locked down about 11:43 a.m. after a man called a student’s mother and said he’d abducted her daughter, said Tony Cipolla, Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
The man said the student’s mother should go to the Nipomo Rabobank and withdraw money in exchange for her daughter’s release, Cipolla said. Sheriff’s deputies responded to the school and found the student was safe and accounted for, but they placed the school on lockdown as a precaution.
The lockdown was lifted about 12:20 p.m., just as the school was preparing to release students on the last day of classes for the year.
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“It was an interesting last day of school,” Principal Michael Flushman said. “When they are in lockdown, I think (the students) are really scared, because they’ve been trained it’s serious business. So there’s a lot of nerves. I was allowed to kind of allay some of those fears during the lockdown. So obviously when we released them there was a big sigh of relief. There’s obviously emotions too, with the end of school, so yeah — they did great.”
Students flooding out of the school to be picked up Friday afternoon seemed unfazed by the unusual incident. One young girl in a group of students told a deputy still on campus that she thought he “did a good job,” as others asked about his weapons and whether he carried a Taser.
The incident appears to have been part of a virtual kidnapping scam, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release. In the scam, an individual calls victims, claims to have kidnapped family members and asks for ransom money, though no abduction has taken place. Criminals often use information gathered from social media to carry out the scams.
“Most schemes use various techniques to instill a sense of fear, panic and urgency in an effort to rush the victim into making a very hasty decision,” according to the release.
Anyone with information about virtual kidnapping scams is encouraged to call the FBI’s Los Angeles field office at 310-477-6565.
Tribune staff writer Kaytlyn Leslie contributed to this story