By NICOLE JACQUES
Students, administrators, and officials all highlight that caution was key in responding to two bomb threats within Bristol’s high schools last week.
In two separate incidents, bomb threats evacuated students and caused school to be dismissed early within the first few hours of the day at both Bristol Central High School and Bristol Eastern High School last week.
At Bristol Central, a message written on a desk claiming a bomb would go off on May 27 at 10:46 a.m. triggered the evacuation and dismissal of all students during second period on May 27.
Later that week, on May 29, Bristol Eastern’s school resource officer (in cooperation with the Bristol Police Department) became aware of an internet threat claiming a bomb would go off at the school. School officials then made the decision to evacuate students from Bristol Eastern and investigate the threat.
In both incidents, all students were removed safely from the school buildings and police dog searches of the buildings produced no bombs. The two incidents are not suspected to be related. As of May 30, the Bristol Police Department said investigations continued and no arrests had been made.
Though not related, these two most recent incidents ignited a discussion on how Bristol Public Schools and administrators handle threats to school security in the post-Newtown and 9/11 world.
Overwhelmingly, in response to the incidents at Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern last week, high school students said they were impressed by the crisis response actions initiated by administrators and district officials. At Bristol Central on Tuesday, students reported that they were informed through an announcement on the school intercom that the school was activating an evacuation drill. After students were outside of the building, they were directed to the school track course and were soon after informed of the real evacuation and were dismissed for the day. Bristol Central principal Pete Wininger also used Twitter throughout the day to keep students, parents, and community members informed with the latest updates on the situation.
Alexandra DeNoto, a senior at Bristol Central, said students were grateful for the school’s open line of communication throughout the evacuation and the course of the day.
“They did a great job, Mr. Wininger and our vice principals especially,” said DeNoto. “They didn’t hide anything from us…[and] they didn’t take any chances. Our safety was their highest priority and if it was real we still would [have been] safe.”
Bristol mayor Ken Cockayne, who said his office worked with the Board of Education to spread word of the situation, also said he was impressed with the school’s reaction.
“The response was incredible and I can’t praise the staff enough for the work that they did,” said Cockayne last Tuesday.
Following the threat at Bristol Eastern last Thursday, students were told to gather their belongings and were evacuated on foot to Stafford Elementary School on Louisiana Avenue, from which location they were dismissed for the day.
Jack Murray, a sophomore at Bristol Eastern, said that although many students suspected that nothing would come of the threat, he thought the response was appropriate.
“Throughout the whole thing, I was pretty sure that there was no bomb, but it is good that they acted the way they did,” said Murray, adding that administrators used a megaphone to clearly communicate with the crowd of evacuated students outside Stafford.
“It was pretty organized I think for the situation,” said Murray. “It [made] me and all the students and faculty feel safe.”
With the school year coming to an end and seniors on the verge of graduation, some students speculated the threats could have been part of a senior class prank. Prank or not, several students and officials said school safety should never be a punch line.
“Nowadays they can’t afford to take anything lightly,” said Allyiah Guiont, a senior at Bristol Central. “Bomb threats should be taken seriously and the students need to learn not to joke about such things.”
Connecticut state police, who operate the state bomb squad, said school and district officials (as opposed to state mandated procedures) are responsible for determining what type or degree of threat warrants an evacuation of students in any given case. The department added, however, that sensitivity to threats— no matter how seemingly benign they may be—is common practice in all situations during today’s times.
“In our post-9/11 world, we take all threats seriously,” said an official from the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. “Threats are investigated and prosecuted, if possible. We do not consider them to be jokes.”
Last week’s double-threat evacuations are not the first threats made towards schools in Bristol. In December 2012, Bristol Public Schools superintendent Dr. Ellen Solek reported a Bristol student was taken into police custody after issuing an online threat against a school within the city. Other safety incidents causing lock downs of schools have also occurred in the past.
No matter the situation, officials said seriousness is always critical to handling the issue.
While working with units from the city police, fire department, and EMS in responding to last week’s two incidents, Bristol Police said agreed that it was important view the threats with the utmost severity.
“All the agencies involved in this are erring on the side of caution,” said city press officer Lieutenant Donn Watson. “[In] any possible situation where safety is of concern…ensuring the safety of students and staff [is key].”
As a result of the dismissal of classes at both high schools, high school students in Bristol will now be required to complete a full day of school on one of their scheduled final exam days, Friday, June 13. The day was originally schedule as a half day, but was changed to make up the class time lost due to both morning evacuations.
While the investigation into both threats continues, Bristol Eastern principal Carly Fortin offered a reward to any student with information on the source of the Bristol Eastern threat during a phone call to students last Thursday afternoon. Any students with information should contact Fortin.
While nobody has been charged yet, the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection reminds the public that threats such as these are serious crimes and will result in a criminal record, as well as the potential for fines and/or jail time.“It is important to remember the consequences of one’s actions,” said the department.