Authorities say bomb threats sent Thursday to dozens of schools, government buildings and other locations across the U.S. appear to be a hoax.
Among the businesses targeted were at least 12 newspapers owned by CNHI, the owner of The Free Press: the Valdosta Daily Times in Valdosta, Ga.; the News and Tribune in Jeffersonville, Indiana; the Journal Express in Knoxville, Iowa; the Clinton Herald in Clinton, Iowa; the Ottumwa Daily Courier in Ottumwa, Iowa; the Joplin Globe in Joplin, Mo., the Pauls Valley Democrat in Pauls Valley, Okla., the Enid News & Eagle in Enid, Okla., the Muskogee Phoenix in Muskogee, Okla., the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, Pa., the Weatherford Daily Times in Weatherford, Texas, and the Suwanee Democrat in Live Oak, Fla.
Staff at the Valdosta Daily Times evacuated their building after receiving the emailed threat around 4:45 p.m.
Police were searching the building with a bomb-sniffing dog by 5:15 p.m.
“We had the proper procedures in place and we followed them," said Jeff Masters, publisher of the Valdosta Daily Times and the Suwannee Democrat. “Police responded quickly and they are doing their job.”
He added that police said the newspaper wasn’t the first location in Valdosta to report receiving an emailed threat on Thursday.
The Johnstown Tribune-Democrat evacuated, as well.
"When something like this occurs, you have to treat it as real until you prove otherwise," Johnstown Police Chief Robert Johnson said.
Law enforcement agencies across the country dismissed the threats as not credible, saying they were meant to cause disruption and compel recipients into sending money.
Some of the emails had the subject line: "Think Twice." 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 threat. 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. The FBI didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Across the country, some schools closed early and others were evacuated or placed on lockdown because of the hoax. Authorities said a threat emailed to a school in Troy, Missouri, about 55 miles northeast of St. Louis, was sent from Russia.
The bomb threats also prompted evacuations at city hall in Aurora, Illinois, the offices of the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, a suburban Atlanta courthouse and businesses in Detroit.
"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."
Officials at Columbine High School in Colorado were dealing Thursday with a bomb threat of a different sort. Students were being kept inside for the rest of the school day after someone called in a bomb threat against the school.
The Jefferson County, Colorado, Sheriff's Office said the caller claimed to have placed explosive devices in the school and to be hiding outside with a gun.
Authorities were unable to validate the threat at Columbine, where 12 students and a teacher were killed by two students in 1999, according to Sheriff's spokesman Mike Taplin.
Two dozen other Colorado schools were also temporarily placed on lockout, meaning their doors were locked but classes continued normally, as the threat was investigated.
CNHI Pennsylvania statehouse reporter John Finnerty and the Associated Press contributed to this report.