The writing was on the wall Wednesday morning when a bomb threat scribbled on a bathroom wall prompted the evacuation of all 1,800 Warren County High School students.
According to Director of Schools Bobby Cox, the mass evacuation was prompted when a student saw a message written by a boys bathroom urinal.
“It read something to the effect that the person had placed a bomb in the school and not to tell anyone,” Cox revealed, noting the message was scrawled in blue ink and was barely legible. “I had to strain my eyes to read it since it was very light.”
McMinnville Police Chief Bryan Denton said that despite the fact the message could have been an old one given its faded appearance, authorities did not want to take chances.
“In today’s environment, you just never know,” Denton said. “In this case, we needed to err on the side of safety.”
In accordance with the school’s emergency plan, students were told there was a fire drill and to leave the building. The campus went on lockdown, as did adjoining Hickory Creek Elementary, as no one was allowed in or out of the facilities. Buses were then sent and the high school students were bused to McMinnville Civic Center, even those who had driven to school.
From there, parents were given the option to check out their children there or wait to see if the campus would reopen and the school day resume. Parents were kept up-to-date on happenings through the school’s text message program and the Southern Standard website.
The Civic Center parking lot resembled a ride line at Disney World as the line of anxious parents extended from the front door of the Civic Center, down past the pool and tennis courts and then down the hill of the parking lot to Clark Boulevard. The 80-plus degree temperatures made the wait even more irritating from some parents.
However, a reprieve came about two hours later when the all-clear was given to return the students to the high school. Provisions were made to serve lunch to the hungry students who had been evacuated just before 11 a.m., which was prior to their lunch period.
While the Wednesday evacuation left some parents seeing red, both Denton and Cox believe the evacuation went smoothly.
“There’s going to be frustration and a bit of chaos with incidents like this but as a whole, evacuating nearly 2,000 people from the school went very smoothly,” Denton said, noting plans had been put in place long ago about how to evacuate the campus in an orderly manner.
Cox agreed, noting the evacuation went as well as could be expected. He added that officials will look at the checkout policy when it comes to remote locations and see if things can be made smoother should there be a next time.
In the meantime, police and the sheriff’s department are conducting a joint investigation and are trying to determine who is responsible for the threat.
“It’s technically covered under the domestic terrorism law and is not only a state crime but could also be tried federally,” Denton said, noting law enforcement will be using all means necessary to find out who is responsible for the threats.
Congressman Scott DesJarlais was scheduled to talk with students at WCHS on Wednesday. His office issued a statement saying DesJarlais would try to reschedule and that there was nothing to suggest a correlation between the congressman's visit and the bomb threat.