SHARE

“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.”