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April 20, 2014

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WHS students and school personnel wait for instructions after a bomb threat Tuesday. Officials searched the school and found no explosives. Photo by Anna Oakes



Originally published: 2013-08-29 09:23:14
Last modified: 2013-08-29 09:23:57

Blowing Rock School temporarily evacuates

Staff Reports

Police were still seeking Tuesday afternoon the culprit behind a bomb threat that caused evacuations at all Watauga County schools that morning.

Boone Police Department received an anonymous call around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday from a male caller, and the “nonspecific” threat didn’t specify whether it was against one school or all, said Sgt. Shane Robbins.

Watauga County school buildings were evacuated immediately as ASU police, Blowing Rock police, and the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office joined the Boone Police Department in investigating the claim.

Most students and staff remained on school grounds, but outside the buildings, said Watauga County Schools spokesman Marshall Ashcraft, while some schools relocated to alternate locations nearby.

Officers searched each school, including Two Rivers Community School and Mountain Pathways Montessori School, before allowing students and staff to re-enter the buildings starting around 9:15 a.m.

By 10:20 a.m., all schools had reopened, according to the Watauga County Schools website.


Blowing Rock School

 “Because the county office called the schools at 7:55 a.m. about the bomb scare, word of mouth among the parents spread pretty quickly,” said Patrick Suko, principal of Blowing Rock School.
 
According to Suko, teachers and staff led students to the far end of the playground and to the parking lot and lawn of First Baptist Church of Blowing Rock on Sunset Drive.

“We had already practiced a fire drill this semester,” Suko said. “We’re required to hold a drill during the first 10 days of school, so we did that last week. The kids knew how to exit and where to go. I was really impressed with the professionalism of our teachers and staff and very proud of how our students handled the situation.”

Suko said that emergency personnel from Blowing Rock Fire and Rescue and the Blowing Rock Police Department arrived on the scene within minutes of the notification of a bomb threat from Watauga County Schools.

He also said that a number of parents came to the school and personally picked up their children.
At 11 a.m. Tuesday, a number of those parents could be seen returning to the school with their children.

The situation was declared “all clear” around 10 a.m. and students returned to their classrooms at 10:20 a.m.


CCC&TI and ASU campuses

Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute’s Watauga campus also was evacuated as a precautionary measure Tuesday morning.

The school posted on its Facebook page that the campus reopened at 9 a.m. and that classes resumed around 10:30 a.m.

Appalachian State University remained on a regular schedule and did not evacuate any buildings, spokeswoman Jane Nicholson said.

“According to our chief, there is no known threat to ASU,” Nicholson wrote in an email.


Investigation

Meanwhile, investigators used a “lot of items at our disposal” to continue seeking the caller throughout the day Tuesday, Robbins said.

“We’re following up on some things right now,” he said at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday. “We don’t have anyone charged at this point, but we’re still following up, actively investigating it.”

Ashcraft said the school system finished the day without any serious disruptions and that administrators were talking together about ways to improve their emergency responses in future incidents.

“Obviously, it’s not an exercise anyone wants to do, but everyone seems to be pretty pleased with how it went,” he said.


Area systems

School systems in neighboring counties remained on guard for similar incidents.

Ashe County Schools Superintendent Todd Holden said he was aware of Watauga’s evacuation, and said Ashe County Schools received no threats.

“I’m worried about a copycat situation,” Holden said Tuesday morning. “I sent out an email to all principals to have them go over their evacuation procedures and make sure that has been done.”

Holden said a review of evacuation procedures usually occurs within the first two weeks of each school year, but said it has not taken place yet.

“We’ve got a new set of procedures with assigned duties, for faculty and staff, and we’ve created a checklist,” Holden said.

“So,  we’re figuring things out a little bit, but I’m headed over to the high school right now to make sure they go over those procedures, and then I’m headed to the (Ashe) Early Learning Center.”

Avery County Schools Superintendent David Burleson said in a statement Tuesday morning that ACS also has a process in place for bomb threats or other types of emergencies.

“Our first concern and obligation is to keep our students and staff safe,” he said. “We work very closely with the Avery County Sheriff’s Department and N.C. Highway Patrol to carry out our school safety plan and procedures.

“A bomb threat on our schools or any public building is a very serious offense with stiff penalties. We do not want to tolerate a threat of any kind, including a copycat situation. We encourage everyone to be work together and contact officials if they have any knowledge of a harmful threat or situation to our schools or communities.”


 
For more information and stories, see The Blowing Rocket.


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