“There’s a bomb threat at the middle school.”
Darcy Wert, mother of a sixth-grade boy, heard those words when she called Hillsdale High School on Feb. 23 to ask why her son had been sent there. The school was under lockdown.
Davis Middle School of- ficials moved students to the high school around 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 23 after the school received a hand-written message saying that part of the building would blow up that morning, said Director of Public Safety Chris Gutowski.
The Hillsdale Police and Fire Department arrived on the scene and searched the building. They found no evidence of a bomb and allowed students back into the middle school around 12:30 p.m.
Police are working with school staff to match the handwriting on the note with students’ handwriting samples. Both the Hillsdale school dis- trict superintendent and police chief said they plan to prosecute the offender to the fullest extent.
“This is a serious offense that neither the police administration nor the school are taking lightly,” Gutowski said.
After discovering the threatening note, Davis Mid- dle School Principal Jackie Wicikham immediately notified Superintendent Shawn Vondra and the police. Vondra decided to move students to the high school, where they waited in the gym and had lunch.
“There wasn’t validity to the concern, but you don’t know that when you’re in the middle of it,” Vondra said.
He sent out phone messages to parents informing them that the school had put a safety pre- caution in place. The messages did not, however, mention a bomb threat.
Wert called the high school to find out what had happened and learned that the “safety precau- tion” actually was the result of a bomb threat. Then she rushed to pick up her son.
“When I got to the high school, I could tell that no one expected to see me there, but I said, ‘No, my kid is coming home now,’” Wert said.
Other parents said they sus- pected there was a bomb threat
but had no way of knowing for sure.
“I can understand not want- ing to tell the kids at the time that there was a bomb threat, but the parents are still entitled to know what’s going on at the school,” Wert said.
Vondra emphasized the importance of caution with information in such a sensitive situation.
“You need to provide info about where the children are and what’s happening with them, but you don’t want to miscom- municate information and you also don’t want to cloud up an issue until you have all the facts down,” he said. “First priority was to tell parents that the chil- dren and staff would be moved to a different school and that their children are safe.”
Officers looked in lockers but did not check students’ bags. No dogs were used to search the school building
“We didn’t crawl under any big objects,” Gutowski said. “We checked in trashcans and looked for something in plain view.”
Amanda Abbott, mother of a sixth-grader, questioned the reasoning behind grouping all
the students together in the high school during a bomb threat, saying they would be one big target.
“I think they need to come up with a better plan because if there was some crazy maniac, they are just going to move all the kids together,” Abbott said. “I just don’t think it is very safe.”
Vondra said the school handled the situation appropri- ately.
“Our schools have well- developed safety and security response plans, and that was clearly evident in the way that the staff and the students executed the plan timely and effectively,” he said.
Gutowski said there is no apparent connection between this incident and the November meth lab explosion a quarter of a mile away.
The threat reminded many parents of the dangers their children face when they leave home.
“It’s always scary send- ing your kid out, no matter if they’re going to school or down the street to a friend’s house,” Abbott said. “It’s always in the back of your mind.”