According to police, the email was sent from an iPod that had been stolen from DVES. The email included demands for the return of the iPod, and a threat that a bomb would be placed in the school if the demands weren’t met.
Wilmington police and state troopers responded to the school and searched the exterior and interior of the building with school personnel. The school was evacuated prior to the search of the interior of the building. Police say no suspicious items were found, and there was no evidence that the building had been entered over the weekend.
This week, after an investigation into the theft of the iPod and the email, police charged an 11-year-old Wilmington juvenile with petit larceny in the theft of the iPod, and a 13-year-old Wilmington juvenile was charged with false public alarm for the email.
At this week’s school board meeting, Wilmington Police Chief Joe Szarejko offered more details about the actions taken Monday morning. Szarejko said he was notified of the incident and met with DVES Principal Rebecca Fillion and officers who were already on the scene. By that time, a search of the perimeter of the building had already been completed. Szarejko said he took a closer look at the email. “There were a lot of things in the threat we believed weren’t really credible,” he said.
Nonetheless, police and school officials continued to investigate the incident, searching the interior of the building for any device. “We searched the entire building, and didn’t find anything of a suspicious nature, inside or out,” Szarejko said. “At that point, (acting superintendent) Nancy Talbott had arrived, and we cleared the building (for reoccupation). We talked about different options, but I made it very clear we did not believe, based on the way the threat had come in and the wording of the threat itself, that it was credible.”
Credible or not, the incident set parents on edge and left many asking whether the school’s security protocols should be re-examined in light of deadly incidents at other schools.
After Wilmington School Board Chair Phil Taylor posted a note to parents regarding the incident on the Twin Valley School consolidation Facebook page, a flurry of comments from parents followed. Parents questioned whether the school’s notification system worked properly, complained of the ongoing lack of information regarding the specifics of the incident, and questioned whether the evacuation rally point was too close to the school had there been a explosive device.
Two parents, Becky Morris and Dan Cunningham, attended Tuesday evening’s school board meeting to discuss the matter.
Morris discussed several of her concerns, included in a point-by-point list she handed out to board members, about the procedures that were followed. At the top of her list was communication, specifically the jumble of ways parents were contacted. Some received an email, some received automated phone calls, and some received a letter at the end of the day regarding the incident – but not all. Of those that received phone calls through the school’s automated notification system, the calls didn’t also go to their cell phones, which parents say is the case for weather-related notifications. Morris said every parent should have gotten an email, a phone call to all of their phones, and a copy of the letter. “This is a small town, it’s not like there are thousands and thousands of people,” she said. “You should be talking to parents, calling them, emailing them, sending letters. It’s not an outrageous thing to ask.”
Fillion said she shared some of the concerns about communication. “There are concerns around the communication piece, around PowerSchool, that we have to resolve,” she said. “I’d be happy to mail a letter, that’s something we can do. I can communicate five different ways if you want. That’s good advice.”
Morris asked if the school had a protocol to follow for incidents like the one on Monday. “We use the department of education bomb threat protocol,” she said. “But every situation is unique, and you have to do things that make sense for that particular situation.”
Fillion said there are other protocols for fire, lock down, and evacuations. For any emergency, the school’s crisis team works with police or other officials.
“If there was a bomb threat in the future, the protocol is to remove kids after you search the perimeter and, if you don’t find anything (inside), put them back in the school?” asked Morris.
“Every situation is different,” said Fillion. “I don’t know if I can answer that.”
When Morris expressed concern that Fillion couldn’t provide a definite answer, Fillion objected. “You asked if I would take the kids outside,” she said. “If the threat was outside, I wouldn’t take them outside. It depends on the threat.”
Morris said her concern was in regard to the practice of returning students to classes after a threat of a device in the building. “What if something had been missed and all of a sudden a bomb goes off?” she said. “And parents had no opportunity to take their kids out of school because they weren’t notified? This is not a nailed down tight disaster plan.”
Talbott said Morris’ points were well-taken, and that the district planned to re-evaluate security issues, and would use Monday’s incident and Morris’ suggestion as part of their process. “To answer some of these things right now wouldn’t give it the thoroughness you deserve,” Talbott said, “but the intent is to re-examine security, and to always err on the side of safety for our kids.”
Taylor noted that, although it isn’t possible to release the text of the email because of the court procedures underway, it might have put parents more at ease if they could have known about the nature of the message. “It would have taken down the credibility of the threat,” he said. “And it didn’t say exactly what the threat was. In a crisis, it’s very hard to get your messaging going in terms of what you can say and what you can’t.”
Board member Dennis Richter, who formed a security audit committee with board member Nicole Crafts several months ago, said the board and committee had been working with a consultant on security issues before the incident. He suggested that the committee work with the school crisis teams to develop plans. “(It would be) with the understanding that the crisis teams are really in charge,” he said. “But I’d like to work with them and share some of our thoughts, maybe look at the plans, and help you with those, and find a way to communicate that to parents and the community.”
Board members agreed to look at the rest of Morris’ concerns, and address the issue again at their next regular meeting.