Area schools evacuated by bomb threat

Published 2:25 am Wednesday, January 26, 2000

By By Sherry Digmon
Advance Staff Writer
Law enforcement agencies descended on five high schools in Escambia County Ala., following a bomb threat Monday morning.
However, due to a misunderstood phone call, the target of the threat, Northview High School in Bratt, Fla., was not notified until almost an hour later of the possible danger.
The Escambia County Ala. Sheriff's Department received a suspicious call at 8:44 a.m. Monday.
The dispatcher said "excuse me," and the caller hung up. A moment later, he called back and said there was a bomb at the "the stadium."
What the dispatcher didn't catch at the time, but heard later when the tape was replayed, was that the bomb was at the stadium at Northview High School.
The dispatcher alerted the police chiefs in Atmore, Flomaton, Brewton and East Brewton who, in turn, alerted principals at all schools having a stadium.
This included Escambia County, Flomaton, T.R. Miller and W.S. Neal high schools. A sheriff's deputy was dispatched to Escambia Academy, the only high school out in the county.
ECHS principal Terrence Mixon said he was notified by Atmore Police Chief Danny McKinley.
Entrances to the campus were blocked by police and fire department vehicles.
Following a walk-through by police, students were allowed to return to class. Several police officers and firefighters continued to comb the stadium area.
At Escambia Academy, Headmaster Judy Branum was off campus. Renee Hardy and Chad Prewett coordinated the evacuation.
Students on the stadium side of the campus n middle and high school grades n were told to report to the auditorium.
The Sheriff's Department and Atmore Police Department responded to the call.
Classes were interrupted for about 45 minutes.
Escambia County Superintendent of Education Dr. Margaret Breland-Bradley went to W.S. Neal High School in East Brewton.
At T.R. Miller and Neal, the stadiums are far from the main buildings. Police checked the stadium at Miller, but no one was evacuated.
At Neal, students who were in the new gym were evacuated and instructed to return to the main building. Classes continued with students being told to stay clear of the stadium and the new gym area.
Flomaton High School students who were near the stadium were evacuated. As at Neal, students were instructed to avoid the stadium area.
Regular classes resumed at all county schools after it was determined that the threat was made to Northview and each school had been thoroughly checked.
While Escambia County Ala. schools were dealing with the threat, sheriff's department personnel were reviewing the tape of the call.
It was then they heard that the threat was at Northview High School in Bratt. The Escambia County Fla., Sheriff's Department was called at 9:38 a.m. The NHS resource officer was alerted and ordered a school evacuation.
When administration sounded the fire drill bell, the students reported to their stations outside. The buses circled around and picked them up. The students were not taken off campus.
Although the caller allegedly said the bomb was in the stadium bleachers, administration had the bleachers in the gym thoroughly checked also.
Weaver was confident there was no bomb at the stadium.
Every morning, maintenance at NHS "sweeps" the stadium, looking for anything unusual, as a safety precaution.
K-9 units from Pensacola cleared the gym, and students were allowed in while the rest of the school was checked.
Faculty members went to each room first and looked for anything out of the ordinary before students were allowed back in class.
Weaver said she doesn't believe the call came from a Northview student.
On Tuesday morning, Weaver met with the students and faculty to compliment them on their behavior and cooperation during the evacuation, and also to stress the seriousness of such a situation.
Certainly chagrined at the reason for the evacuation, Dr. Bradley was nevertheless pleased with the response on all levels.
Dr. Bradley said the county school administration has an ongoing dialogue with the police departments. Monday's events served to reinforce that rapport.
Dr. Bradley said reports from the principals indicated that everyone acted in an appropriate way.
Sheriff Hawsey was also pleased.
The sheriff's department has the tape of the call, and is the process of trying to identify the voice.
The call could have been made from Florida or Alabama. Calls to E911 from a cell phone don't always go to the nearest dispatcher, but are routed according to the tower the call hits.
Chief McKinley said there has been a rash of bomb threats across the state recently. This was the first bomb threat at Northview High School.

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