Bomb threats empty school

Dec. 31, 1969, 7 p.m. | By Julia Kay | 51 years, 1 month ago

Lt. gov's visit threatened as well

During what should have been a normal Friday afternoon on Mar 22, over 3,600 Blair students and staff sat outdoors in the football stadium—and it wasn't for a pep rally. Inside the school, police officers and highly trained dogs were methodically searching classroom after classroom, hallway after hallway. The cause: two credible phone calls threatening a "serious incident" had been called in to a local police station.

The following Monday, Mar 25, was marked by the visit of Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who is considered the front-runner in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Her entourage included MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast and former Blazer and Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes.

The days were different in nearly every way—except for one.

That Monday morning, according to Business Manager Anne Alban, a female voice called the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) and said a bomb would go off at Blair around 9:30 a.m., the anticipated time of Townsend's arrival. After much review of the threat, the police deemed it not credible and chose not to pursue further action.

The events of Mar 22 and 25 are part of a nationwide problem of school bomb threats that came to prominence two years ago following the attacks at Columbine High School. Because not all bomb threats are reported to a single source, it is difficult to estimate the extent of the problem.

Mar 22 and 25 are not the only days that bomb threats occurred this school year. On Oct 11, 2001, the night of this school year's first PTSA meeting, a bomb squad came in to investigate a suspicious package that was found in the administration's parking lot. The squad conducted its search while the meeting proceeded as planned. No device was found.

On July 30, 2001, Security Team Leader Edward Reddick was notified by county administrators that a bomb threat had been called into police dispatchers around 10:15 a.m. from a Woodmoor Shopping Center pay phone informing them that 700 pounds of dynamite had been placed inside Blair and would go off in 75 minutes. Searches of the building found no explosive devices and summer school students were not evacuated.

In the year 2002 alone, three MCPS students from other high schools have been arrested by the MCPD for allegedly making bomb threats, and all were involved in separate incidents. No arrests have yet been made in relation to the March Blair incidents.

According to Montgomery County Police Officer Derek Baliles, the false report of a bomb is a felony. The maximum penalty for an adult is a fine of $10,000 and ten years in prison; for a minor, it is usually less.

People who make bomb threats defy stereotypes, said Bill Stixrud, a Silver Spring psychologist. According to Stixrud, it is difficult to tell who may make a bomb threat and for what reason.

Students who are teased or disliked are most likely to commit violent acts, but certainly aren't the only possible perpetrators, according to a University of Pittsburgh study, "The Inherent Limits of Predicting School Violence," by Ed Mulvey and Elizabeth Cauffman.

Blair staff members are well-trained in emergency response techniques, according to Alban. In the event of a threat, they are instructed to use the MCPS Telephone Bomb Threat Checklist to interview the caller.

Blair has a highly developed security plan for an emergency that mirrors in many respects the comprehensive Association of Tobacco and Firearms publication "Bomb Threats and Physical Security Planning."

The manual cautions that morale may be lowered if people are uninformed of a bomb threat, but that hysteria can ensue if they are told. That was why students were not immediately told of the reason for the Mar 22 evacuation, according to Principal Phillip Gainous.

Additional reporting by Joe Howley

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Julia Kay. Julia Kay, a senior in the magnet program, proudly serves with Kang-Xing as one of Chips' Managing News Editors. She brings to the staff three years of experience as a software and movie reviewer for the Washington Post's Fast Forward magazine. In addition to working … More »

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