By MIKE CHAIKEN
After five bomb scares at Bristol schools since last week, city officials made it clear tonight that the culprits will be caught and there will be severe consequences—including criminal charges and the pursuit of full financial restitution for the cost of dispatching city emergency personnel to the scene and the disruption of the education process.
Bristol Central, Bristol Eastern, and St. Paul Catholic high schools and Northeast and Chippens Hill middle schools were all the target of bomb threats via a variety of methods, starting last week. St. Paul and Chippens Hill were both targeted today.
The city is offering a $1,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest and conviction of those responsible, said Bristol’s Mayor Kenneth Cockayne.
Police Chief Thomas Grimaldi said it appears each threat was an isolated incident, with no one person being responsible for all of them. He said it appeared to be a case of “copy cats.”
“We take it very seriously,” said Grimaldi of the threats. As of Wednesday night, he said it is an active investigation
The suspects have the potential of facing felony charges and school sanctions, said Grimaldi. The charges could even include committing an act of terrorism.
Grimaldi said the suspects may feel the threats are a joke. However, Grimaldi said the incidents have serious consequences.
Grimaldi said the incidents have an impact beyond the schools and reaches into the community at large. He said 60 police officers, as well as other emergency personnel, were occupied with assuring the safety of the students at each of these bomb threats. And these emergency personnel were not available for true emergencies in the rest of Bristol.
Fire Chief Jon Pose echoed Grimaldi’s comments. On each of these false threat calls, two fire companies were sent out. If there were true emergencies, those fire personnel would not have been available to respond as quickly as they could have. Additionally, the calls put the lives of the emergency personnel at risk as they rush to the scene for these false threats.
“It’s not joke,” said Pose. “The perpetrators will be caught and will be prosecuted.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ellen Solek said the Bristol Public Schools has provided the police department with surveillance footage that is currently being examined to find those who were responsible for the threats.
Solek said for most of the staff in the city schools, this rash of bomb threats was the first time they have experienced such incidents.
In the four previous incidents, students were evacuated from the schools and relocated to a safe location. The students then were sent home.
In light of these incidents, Solek said the schools are changing their protocols on how to respond to these threats. Students and staff will still be evacuated and fire and police personnel still will give a thorough search of the building. But when emergency personnel deem the buildings to be safe, students will be returned to the building.
Four the four instances in the city’s public schools, students were sent home early.
The consequences for the false bomb threats will extend to the parents as well, said city officials—if the perpetrators turn out to be juvenile.
Cockayne reiterated the city’s intent to seek full restitution for the funds expended to respond to these calls. That cost likely will be borne by the parents of any juveniles.
Additionally, said Grimaldi, if the suspects are indeed juveniles, they will have to appear in juvenile court. Then their parents will have to accompany them through the lengthy court process, resulting in lost time at work, lost wages, and legal expenses.
“There are a lot of consequences for parents,” said Grimaldi.
Solek said parents in the community should take the time to speak to their children regarding the seriousness of these bomb threats. They should also encourage their children to come forward if they have any information regarding who is responsible.
Grimaldi said there are plans in the works to more formally address parents about this issue. The city is coming up with a game plan, perhaps participating in special speaking engagements, forums, or sending mailers home to parents.
Text messages and other electronic means of communication were used to help alert parents about the threats. Solek said this is an opt-in system, in which parents sign up for the alerts. If a parent is not signed up for the alerts, and is interested in registering in the wake of the bomb threats, Solek said they can call their child’s school and register for the messages.
City officials said if anyone has information about the threats and who was responsible, they should call the Bristol Police Department at (860) 584-3011.