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Jewish Community Centers Given All Clear After Bomb Threats

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MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) -- Authorities gave the all-clear for two South Florida Jewish community centers after earlier threats prompted evacuations that included hundreds of children Monday morning.

Around 11 a.m.,  hundreds of kids were evacuated from the Dave & Mary Alper Jewish Community Center over a possible explosive device, according to police. About 300 kids were evacuated from the center located in Miami at 11155 SW 112th Avenue out of an abundance of caution.

Dozens of parents of the children were seen outside the center as their children were congregated in a tennis court - kept away from their parents during the investigation. All the parents were being told was that their children were safe and had been evacuated.

"The first thing that happens is what is going on with my child," parent Nicki John told CBS4's Peter D'Oench.

Sources say, before 11 a.m., a phone call came into the main operator line of the facility. A bomb threat was made. The call came from a local number which is what prompted the evacuation at the center.

"I got a phone call and they said everyone get out," said teacher Joann Ranch. "They were very careful and cautious. Everyone was calm."

Some students say what happened seemed like an adventure.

"This is crazy. This never happened before in our lives," said a student.

Their principal told them what to do.

"He said it was important to go outside and line up," said fifth grader Emilio Holt. "I was nervous. I think there is something really scary and serious going on."

His mother Amilia Holt said she was surprised.

"This is horrible to send kids into this environment you usually think it is safe. You don't really expect anything like this to happen in school," said Amilia.

The Alper Jewish Community Center released a statement saying there was an unconfirmed report of an explosion but that was false.

After a sweep to make sure the building was okay, officers gave the all-clear Monday afternoon - four hours after the evacuation.

There was also another threat to another Jewish community center in Miami Beach but the all clear was given by police around noon.

Officers say someone called in a threat to the Miami Beach Jewish Community Center, located at 4221 Pine Tree Drive, around 10:45 a.m. That's when the center called the police. A handful of people were evacuated from the center.

Miami Beach Police did a courtesy sweep to make sure everything was okay.

Miami-Dade Police say they are unsure if there is a correlation between both threats.

Similar bomb threats were received nationwide at Jewish community centers in other states including New Jersey and Tennessee. Locally, the Jewish Community Alliance in Jacksonville, the Roth Family Jewish Community Center of Greater Orlando, and the Tampa Jewish Federation also got bomb threats, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

They said bomb threats were also called into institutions last week in Central Florida including the Jewish Academy of Orlando in Maitland, the Chabad of South Orlando, and two Tampa-area Jewish Community Center preschools.

ADL Florida Regional Director Hava L. Holzhauer issued the following statement on the matter saying,

"It is disheartening to begin 2017 with hate being called into Jewish Institutions. Make no mistake, these are terror acts intended to intimidate and disrupt the everyday lives of Jewish members of the community. We are grateful for the quick response of various law enforcement departments from across the state, which have assisted in the evacuations and clearance of the facilities impacted by these calls. We value our freedoms and inclusiveness in this country. We hope law enforcement will find the individuals responsible for these cowardly acts and bring them to justice."

"As a community, we must always be vigilant when it comes to security," the Greater Miami Jewish Federation's director of community security, Brenda Moxley, said in an email.

The Alper Jewish Community Center said it was working with the FBI and Miami-Dade Police who said Homeland Security will also investigate the threats.

"I think it is a shame. It is too bad that we are so vulnerable. It is sad, very sad. I hope it does not get worse. We have to be cautious and prudent," said Ranch.

"As a community, we must always be vigilant when it comes to security," the Greater Miami Jewish Federation's director of community security, Brenda Moxley, said in an email.

Rabbi Yossi Harlig, a community leader in the Kendall area, says the threats will make the Jewish community more alert but at the same time they will not to let this disrupt their daily routines.

"We're going to show people that want to cause harm, people that want to scare us, to try to change our lifestyle, that we will not not change our lifestyle. On the contrary, we will go and be more light to the world. We will go and bring more kindness to the world," said Rabbi Harlig.

Florida has not been the only state where Jewish institutions have been targeted. There were reports Monday of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers in several states, including Tennessee, Maryland, South Carolina, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. These follow several bomb threats called into Georgia and New Jersey institutions last week.

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