Bomb threat at NES

Published 12:35 am Friday, April 22, 2011

An aerial view of Northeast Elementary School. (Contributed Photo/Beaufort County Schools)

Note discovered in classroom forces evacuation

Northeast Elementary School was evacuated for about an hour Thursday morning after a note believed to be a bomb threat was discovered in one of the school’s classrooms, according to Beaufort County sheriff’s deputies and county school officials.

Deputies have identified a juvenile believed to be responsible for the note, said Capt. Kenneth Watson with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies were notified about the potential threat around 8:30 a.m. after a student found the note, “perceived as a potential threat,” and turned it over to a teacher, Watson said.

Four deputies and members of the Pantego Volunteer Fire Department responded to the call, he said.

“No suspicious items” were found in the school, Watson said.

As a result of the threat, some 540 students from prekindergarten through eighth grade, the school’s faculty and its staff were evacuated, said Sarah Hodges, public information officer for Beaufort County Schools.

Students’ parents were informed by a telephone Alert Now system of the threat, and some chose to go to the school and take their children home, Hodges said.

After the building had been cleared by law-enforcement officers, the students, faculty and staff returned to the school and parents were notified the threat was over, she said.

In addition to evacuating a school when it receives a threat, the principal at a school that is the target of the threat is required to contact local law-enforcement officials and the superintendent of schools. Local rescue and fire departments also must respond, school officials said.

Thursday’s threat was the latest in a series of bomb threats received by schools throughout the county.

In October, Southside High School received separate bomb threats over four consecutive days.

After that series of threats, the school system continued to receive bomb threats resulting in more threats against the schools in one semester than were previously received in an entire school year, school officials said in previous interviews.

In an effort to curb the threats, messages were sent to students’ homes through the Alert Now system and information on the seriousness of bomb threats and the penalties levied against those who issue such threats was posted on the school system’s website.

In 1999, the N.C. General Assembly stiffened penalties for those who make bomb threats against schools and approved holding parents liable for those actions.

When the law passed, then-Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. said North Carolina would have “zero tolerance for anyone who makes threats of violence against our schools.”

The law made it a serious felony for people who make school-related bomb threats, even if they are hoaxes. It also requires an automatic suspension for 365 days for any student who makes a false report or perpetrates a hoax. Parents or legal guardians may be held liable for costs resulting from the disruption or dismissal of school č up to $25,000 for a hoax and up to $50,000 if a bomb is discharged. The law also required the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles to revoke the permit or driver’s license of a person convicted of making a false threat.

The current penalties were proposed by school principals and superintendents following a rash of threats and hoaxes in the wake of the shootings at Columbine High School.

In addition to penalties levied under state law, Beaufort County Schools students who make bomb threats also face disciplinary action under the Student Code of Conduct.