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W-L student prompts police investigation after allegedly using a device to turn off nearby iPhones

Washington-Liberty High School in the snow (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Last month, a peculiar cybersecurity incident derailed class at Washington-Liberty and prompted a police investigation that is ongoing.

Around 10:10 a.m. on Nov. 30, police were dispatched to the school for “the late report of suspicious circumstances,” says ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage.

“The preliminary investigation indicates that between 10:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on November 29, a student inside Washington Liberty High School utilized an electronic device that caused nearby iPhones to turn off,” she said.

“Police identified the involved student and the manner of intrusion that impacted the iPhones,” she continued. “Based on the preliminary investigation, there is no ongoing threat to the community related to this incident.”

Although ACPD identified the student involved, no charges have been sought at this time because police are still investigating the incident and any impacts to affected devices, says Savage.

Later that week, on Dec. 1, Arlington Public Schools shared a message from ACPD to the W-L community, seeking to find more potentially impacted phones. The message, shared with ARLnow, advised recipients of the incident and asking anyone whose cell phone turned off while at the school on Nov. 29 to file an online police report or contact the tip line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected].

“Victims have been identified and efforts to identify potential additional victims are ongoing,” Savage said.

ACPD did not provide additional details, such as what kind of device might have been used, citing the need to preserve the integrity of the ongoing investigation. A cybersecurity expert contacted by ARLnow declined to speculate on how a student might have turned off nearby iPhones.

The police department did note that it is not currently investigating any similar incidents. ACPD also shared some general cybersecurity tips.

“Police recommend community members always ensure their electronic devices are up to date with the latest software provided by their manufacturer and/or service provider,” Savage said. “Additional cybersecurity best practices include using strong passwords, thinking before you click on suspicious links, and using multi-factor authentication.”

The unusual incident comes as Arlington Public Schools have seen multiple lockdowns, some due to gun-related threats, particularly this year, while others have been chalked up to “swatting,” or hoax calls to 911 about school threats intended to elicit a large police response.

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