Officials: quick reaction of student, staff in elementary school bomb threat helped prevent dangerous situation
Staff at Hancock Creek Elementary School acted quickly and appropriately when alerting police to two students with bomb-making materials in their backpacks Tuesday morning, police and school officials said.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office released information stating two boys, a 9- and a 10-year-old, were found to have materials and detailed plans to put together a “makeshift” explosive device at the school. Though the device was unlikely to be able to cause serious damage to property or death, the youths’ intent to assemble and ignite the device could have caused minor damage or injury to others, including the themselves, Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Larry King said Wednesday.
The youths have each been charged with attempted or threatened use of a weapon of mass destruction or hoax weapons of mass destruction. They were taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center and later released to their parents.
“It’s quite surprising coming from a 9- and 10-year-old,” King said, adding the two boys were the youngest he’d heard of reportedly attempting to carry out a plan of that magnitude in Lee County.
“The aspect that is most alarming is the threat itself of wanting to cause extensive damage or injury or death to students and faculty,” he said. “The positive end is that everybody did exactly what they were supposed to do.”
A fellow student alerted the bus driver the boys might have possession of a knife, King said. The bus driver in turn told Assistant Principal Leslie Gunderson, who did not find a knife but alerted the Sheriff’s Office of the boys’ possession of the bomb-making materials.
Some of the materials included a plastic body wash container with a string attached to it, several explosive devices and written plans outlining where to place the devices within the school, police reports state.
School district spokesperson Joe Donzelli said the staff at Hancock Creek Elementary School handled the situation appropriately.
“The staff at the school did exactly what they were trained to do,” he said. “The school district will now conduct a concurrent but separate investigation (from the Sheriff’s Office).”
Donzelli said the school district will apply the code of conduct in determining the appropriate disciplinary response, which could range up to expulsion.
“The bigger issue for us as an individual school system is why,” he said. “Why did they act out in a highly inappropriate way and what can we do to help?”
The district will sit down and talk with the families involved, possibly with family counselors, staff or outside agencies to determine root cause of the youths’ alleged behavior, Donzelli said.
“Post-Columbine, there’s no such thing as a joke anymore,” he said. “We take every threat whether it’s perceived or actual, very, very seriously. Students are more and more showing the fortitude, taking a proactive role in keeping themselves and their classmates safe. That’s key. We can’t investigate something unless it’s brought to our attention.”
A letter sent to parents Thursday from school principal Kelly Vaughn reads: “…The safety and security of our students –your children — and my staff is a primary focus for me. We treat every situation seriously and we will continue to do so in order to provide a safe and secure learning environment for everyone at Hancock Creek Elementary.”
The letter urges parents to teach their children to let someone know if they “see or hear something they know isn’t right” in order to prevent a potentially dangerous situation.
Donzelli said the letter was sent home to parents Thursday rather than Wednesday due to the ongoing Sheriff’s Office investigation.