SHERIFF LAX WITH BOMB THREAT - SCHOOL TAKES MATTER INTO OWN HANDS
By Ron Lee
GRANTS PASS, OR - "It's just computer notes. I don't think he wrote a report or anything." was the response received, from a clerk in the Josephine County Sheriff's Office, by a request for an incident report regarding a bomb threat at a local private school that the Sheriff's Department responded to by sending one officer. According to school officials, and the notes, at approximately 1:51 p.m. on May 12, 2004 New Hope Christian School received a phone call by a woman calling from a New York based number. The words, chilling to the teacher who took the call, "The New Hope Christian School will blow up now" were described as being said with an accent, one of possible middle eastern origin.
Instantly the teacher apprised the nearby Principal, Terell Bowdoin, of the threat. Without hesitation, the decision to evacuate the 280 plus kindergarten thru 12th graders and staff was made and the alarm was triggered.
Within seconds and while he was assisting in the evacuation Principal Bowdoin dialed 911 on his cell phone. According to the Sheriff's Office notes, the 911 call was received at approximately 1:53 p.m.. Over the next several minutes the 911 operator was given the details of the threat and the status of the students by both Principal Bowdoin and Vice-Principal Ernie Stone, who informed the operator at 1:56 p.m. that the school had been entirely evacuated.
"This was our first ever bomb threat. We took it seriously ... our first concern was for the safety of the students." Principal Bowdoin said. Once all of the children were at a safe distance and 911 had all of the information Principal Bowdoin and Vice-Principal Stone headed back into the building, thinking that help was just minutes away.
In fact, it took approximately 18 minutes for a Josephine County Sheriffs Deputy to be dispatched and almost another 10 minutes for the individual officer, Sgt. Steven Clarke, to arrive on the scene at 2:22 p.m.. Before Sgt. Clarke arrived Principal Bowdoin and Vice-Principal Stone took it upon themselves to look for anything suspicious by scouring crawl spaces under and through the school, restrooms, outside trash bins and everywhere and anywhere teachers and students had not been. While Principal Bowdoin and Vice-Principal Stone conducted the first quick search of the premises, another staff member questioned adults and students gathered in their safety zone if anyone had seen anything unusual. One student said that he had seen an unfamiliar car in the morning with one or more women in it.
Upon his arrival Sgt. Clarke was informed of the cursory search efforts and was also told that this was the schools first bomb threat and that there possibly was a suspicious vehicle sighted earlier in the morning. Commenting on the surprise school officials had when only Sgt. Clarke arrived, "We did not ask why it took so long, that again was a surprising observation we made. Approximately one week later while talking with the officer expressing our surprise, he stated that they had also just received a homicide incident at that time." Although, there was a firetruck stationed down the road, just in case.
During the approximated 37 minutes Sgt. Clarke spent at the school he did no searches of the buildings and even though the school had not been thoroughly searched he called several staff members and the one student, who had witnessed the suspicious vehicle, into the main building to interview them. Briefly talking with them and then retrieving the last 3 phone numbers that had called the school he handed his business card to Principal Bowdoin and stated that they should call if anything unusual was found and that he was leaving to contact a possible suspect. He left the school at 3:09 p.m..
When asked if there is a Sheriff's Department procedure on how bomb threats are handled in schools Sgt. Clark offered, "No. No specific bomb threat protocol." As for teachers doing their own searches he said, "It's not unusual for staff to search." And that is exactly what the school had to do when they were left alone.
Principal Bowdoin called on the teaching staff for volunteers to completely search the school and its grounds. With several teachers stepping forward he asked them to, "systematically search every room, everything, waste paper baskets, every single back pack, every cupboard for anything unusual."
They were to report in when done with their assigned rooms and were asked follow-up questions to ensure they had searched all of the potential hiding spots. As they searched the premises the students were sent home. In several cases the searchers gathered medicines from the bags of students so they would have them available, but they did not release any personal items to the students until the following day to make sure each of the items had been thoroughly searched, a further safety precaution.
Fortunately, the search yielded nothing unusual and there was no bomb. All of the children and volunteers who put themselves at risk were safe ... this time.
"We were definitely surprised how low-key they (the Sheriff's Department) treated this." Principal Bowdoin recalled. If the school is ever faced with a similar situation, one they contend lacked sufficient effort and guidance by the Sheriff's Department, they won't rely on Sheriff's Department protection alone and have commissioned an outside professional to assist in the creation of their own bomb threat protocol. There are now approximately six staff volunteers who will be receiving more specific instructions in what to look for should the need arise in the future.
Commenting to a statement made that there are plenty of other less threatening cases where more than one officer are dispatched, Sgt. Clarke replied, "I won't get into the political end of it ... comparing apples to oranges."
According to Sgt. Clarke the call is still under investigation but school officials said that they hadn't received an update as to its status for almost a week. Replying to a comment made that the perception is that the Sheriff's Department didn't do enough, Sgt. Clarke stated, "It's not like I went down, took a couple notes and blew out of there."
New Hope Christian School (541)
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"We were definitely surprised how low-key they (the Sheriff's Department) treated this." Principal Bowdoin recalled. If the school is ever faced with a similar situation, one they contend lacked sufficient effort and guidance by the Sheriff's Department, they won't rely on Sheriff's Department protection alone..."