Officials at the Command Post discuss the situation, as S.P. Elementary Schools are evacuated. (l-r) Mike Bush, Assistant Superintendent, Police Chief Steve McKinnon and Interim Fire Chief Kevin Fildes. Photo By Brian D. Wilson

Thousands of students evacuated after bomb threat

September 15, 2006
Finding culprit is a top priority for officials
Santa Paula News
Seven Santa Paula elementary schools including Isbell Middle School were ordered evacuated Tuesday after an anonymous caller left a voice mail message that a bomb would explode on an unspecified campus at 10 a.m. By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesSeven Santa Paula elementary schools including Isbell Middle School were ordered evacuated Tuesday after an anonymous caller left a voice mail message that a bomb would explode on an unspecified campus at 10 a.m.According to Santa Paula Police Chief Steve MacKinnon, the threat could have been called in to “any one of the seven schools” when left Monday at about 5:30 p.m.All after-hours school calls are routed to the Santa Paula Elementary School’s District Office; the message was picked up at about 8:15 a.m. Tuesday and the SPPD notified.“We evacuated all of the elementary schools as a precaution,” noted Chief MacKinnon and the classrooms and district office were fully evacuated by 9:30 a.m. “The threat was specific,” as to the time that an explosive would ignite but not where the device was located.Several of the larger schools were able to have students remain on campus at the farthest reaches; portable toilets and bottled water was supplied while a huge multi-agency response arrived at the different schools.“Due to the fact that eight separate schools had to be searched a mutual aid request was initiated” that brought personnel from nine federal, state and local agencies to the campuses said SPPD Senior Officer Alan Macias.Additionally, seven bomb-sniffing K-9s were dispatched, working with the approximately 50 emergency personnel utilized for a “systematic search of the schools,” noted Sr. Officer Macias that included all offices, classrooms and common areas.The district notified students’ parents of the evacuation via an automated phone message that noted that all students were safe and urged the parents not to come to the schools, which were in lock-down.A number of parents did race to campuses asking that they be allowed to take their children from school but were refused.By about 2:09 p.m. almost all of the schools had been searched; no explosive devices were found. Isbell Middle School was not cleared until 3 p.m.Students - more than 4,100 in all were evacuated - had been allowed back in class as each school was cleared.“We’re trying to get back to normal around here,” said SPESD Superintendent Dr. Luis Villegas said Wednesday.
The mass evacuation disrupted thousands of students as well as special training and speakers scheduled on Tuesday, a cost that will probably be covered by insurance.But, the “Big deal is the whole cost of time lost...we had some students out all day although some had a portion of a day inside the classroom.”Santa Paula Elementary District schools are “back to normal” and although not official as yet enrollment Wednesday did seem to have been affected by Tuesday’s incident.Not so for other districts: Santa Paula Union High School - which evacuated students for several hours on Tuesday as a precautionary measure - received a bomb threat on Wednesday as did the Conejo Valley Unified School District.Finding out who placed the anonymous call to the SPESD is a top priority: “We want to pursue and are doing that now, the caller was - we certainly believe - in Santa Paula. We’re investigating and will try to get to the bottom of it,” an effort that could result in criminal charges.Villegas said that during Tuesday’s incident emergency responders checked the schools two at time.“Teams kept coming into the city the time they went to Isbell” many of the schools had been cleared and “we had seven teams,” that checked the campus.“The joint effort on the part of the school district, the Santa Paula police and fire departments and the other agencies was just outstanding,” and provided a learning experience. “Getting this done as quickly as it can, getting the schools inspected and cleared” was orderly and timely.Evacuating all the campuses was a “Major, major decision...we started with the District Office but when the SPPD,” listened to the anonymous threat they believed that further action was needed due to the non-specificity of exactly where the explosive device was allegedly placed.“It’s better to land on the side of caution rather than regret,” said Villegas. “I’d rather be criticized for being over-cautious by responding than by not responding and something happened.”Sr. Officer Macias said that personnel from the Santa Barbara City and County law enforcement agencies, U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, Glendale Police Department, California State University Channel Islands, U.S. Navy Law Enforcement, Fillmore and Ventura County Fire departments and American Medical Response were responded to the request for mutual aid.

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