3 junior high girls in detention center for 5 bomb threats|[09/07/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 7, 2007

Two 13-year-old and one 14-year-old Warren Central Junior High School girls were arrested Thursday, ending a two-day string of five bomb threats at their school.

Their identities and the disposition of the cases against them will remain confidential under state laws that seal the files of youth courts and student discipline, but Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent James Price said they will be dealt with severely.

“I’m just as sorry as can be that they did this,” Price said. But “You’re not going to get away with this. You’re going to be dealt with swiftly and severely but fairly. It’s been in the paper — if you do this, you’re going to suffer the consequences.”

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On Wednesday, threats were called in at 6:51 and 10 a.m. On Thursday, three calls were made — at 7:20, 10:05 and 10:20 a.m. Nearly 800 students and 65 teachers and staff at the school on Baldwin Ferry Road were evacuated four times in the past two days. All the calls were placed to the Warren County E-911 center, said police and school officials. The girls were in the Warren County Juvenile Detention Center this morning, said Vicksburg Warren School District School Resource Officer Dewayne Sims.

Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett said investigators are confident all of the people involved are in custody. Sims said all the calls were made from a cell phone and Moffett said the phone believed to be used in the calls has been recovered. At least two of the calls were made on school property and another was made on a school bus, he said.

After the first threat Wednesday morning, students were not evacuated “because they had not entered the building yet,” said Warren Central Junior High Principal Cedric Magee. Students were kept out of the building and held on the bus until the scene was cleared by authorities, he said.

“You have to take every threat seriously,” said Magee. “Our law enforcement did an excellent job,” responding to the threats, and teachers and students executed the school’s evacuation plan perfectly, he said.

Price, Magee and Sims said no devices were found and no students were ever at risk.

“We found nothing to lead us to believe that there was a bomb,” said Sims.

After police determined who was behind the threats, “literally within minutes, they were there before the judge,” said Price. The swift response demonstrates that “the system is working,” he said. A bomb threat against a school is a felony under Mississippi law.

He speculated that the students thought it was fun to watch the commotion. “Everybody had to be moved out of the school — I guess they were amused at that. We probably mobilized 20 people five different times,” Price said.

Still, “I’m just real proud of the faculty and staff — no matter how frustrated they became,” the emergency procedures were performed by the book each time, Price said.

In March of the 2005-2006 school year, VWSD and emergency personnel estimated they spent thousands of dollars responding to and investigating several bomb threats at Vicksburg High, Warren Junior and Warren Central Intermediate schools. A 14-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl were arrested, both charged with phoning in the threats to Warren Central Junior High. Those students were sanctioned for 12 months, Price said. Also last year at Warren Central Intermediate School on Sherman Avenue, about $5,000 worth of food had to be thrown out when a bomb threat was called in during a lunch period.

No bomb threats were made during the 2006-2007 school year, said Price.

Besides the monetary costs, there is also the consideration of lost class time. “You’re talking about half an hour each time,” the students are evacuated, Price said. And making bomb threats “goes far beyond the school district,” said Sims. “When you make those types of calls you’re not only endangering the school’s students, you’re endangering the public,” said Sims.

“It takes a lot of resources and fire trucks to respond” to these threats, said Moffett. Students need to understand that lives are at risk if those resources are unavailable due to a prank in the event of a real emergency, he said.

At the school level, the students will face a district disciplinary committee hearing in addition to any criminal charges brought against them. The maximum penalty is expulsion for one year.

This year and last, some parents were upset that they weren’t notified sooner that there was a problem.

On Wednesday, “I was just riding by and noticed all the commotion,” said Katrina Comans, whose son is an eighh-grader at Warren Junior. After stopping to ask what was going on, Comans said she was told by a school employee that a fire drill was under way.

“I believe we need to find a way to get that information out to the public. Parents need to know — I believe I should have a choice” to remove my child from school, said Comans.

Magee said most students are just as frustrated as school staff and local emergency personnel.

“As we did the last evacuation, I heard some students say that they were tired of this,” Magee said.