Bomb hoaxer faces stiff penalties

Published 11:54 pm Friday, September 25, 2009

Students and faculty at Nansemond River High School were evacuated from the building Friday morning after emergency officials received a bomb threat on the school.

According to police reports, the staff at Florence Bowser Elementary School received a phoned-in bomb threat for Nansemond River High School shortly before 9 a.m.

The building was immediately evacuated, while officials from Suffolk Police, Suffolk Fire & Rescue and the Fire Marshall’s Office responded to the scene.

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Students, faculty and staff spent an hour outside Friday morning, until they were allowed to re-enter the building into assigned areas of the school. By 11:15 a.m., the students were permitted to go back to their classrooms.

The Fire Marshall’s office is still examining the threat, according to Diana Klink, media and community relations manager for the city of Suffolk.

“The Fire Marshall’s office is currently investigating, and every attempt will be made to locate the perpetrator,” Klink said. “This is a felony, and they will be prosecuted to the fullest.”

This is the first bomb threat in the school system since school began, but the system has a protocol in place to handle these crisis situations.

According to Bethanne Bradshaw, public information officer for the Suffolk Public Schools, school officials first contact emergency dispatch once they hear a threat, but often bomb threat calls go directly to police dispatch, anyway.

From that point, the city’s fire department is in charge.

The decision to evacuate a school is made only after an initial assessment from the fire department officials. If a school is not evacuated, it is typically put in lock-down mode, where no student or staff member is allowed in or out of the building.

Klink said specific threat assessment protocols could not be released because of security measures.

Bradshaw said the school system also has a telephone system that is able to trace calls. Staff members share any information or leads they have with fire investigators, because the people giving the threats are usually school-aged.

“For most part, callers often appear to be juveniles,” Bradshaw wrote in an email to the News-Herald. “Written threats are also assumed to be mostly students. If the caller is a student, school policy calls for expulsion. The fire department, of course, can also press criminal charges.”

Additionally, all students were sent home from school on Friday with a letter from the Principal Thomas McLemore explaining the situation.