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UPDATE: Helena, area elementary schools all clear after police investigate bomb threat

2014-03-19T09:39:00Z 2015-02-23T16:24:48Z UPDATE: Helena, area elementary schools all clear after police investigate bomb threatBy DEREK BROUWER and JULIE BAUGHMAN Independent Record Helena Independent Record

Helena Schools Superintendent Kent Kultgen says all elementary schools have been cleared by police after searches were conducted for suspicious items related to a bomb threat made Wednesday morning.

Police had not yet searched Ray Bjork Learning Center, which houses childcare programs, but Kultgen said those students were dismissed for the day.

The schools were evacuated after Helena Police received a phone threat in which the caller claimed to have placed a bomb in a Helena elementary school. Kultgen said police don’t believe the threat to be credible and cited the caller’s mispronunciation of the city’s name.

Nonetheless, Kultgen ordered the evacuation and requested authorities search the K-5 buildings and Ray Bjork Learning Center as a precaution.

“We wanted to mitigate any cause for concern,” he said. “It’s what’s best for students.”

The evacuations began just before 10 a.m. Students and staff were escorted to designated evacuation areas, where they waited for police to conduct searches, in some cases using K-9 units.

Each school has its own evacuation plan, Kultgen said. At Broadwater Elementary, students walked a few blocks to Carroll College. They were told to take their coats to participate in an evacuation “drill,” Principal Sue Sweeney said.

Kultgen said the threat referenced placing the bomb in a backpack, but the e-mail sent to school principals instructed students to carry their backpacks along during the evacuation, per Helena Police advisement.

A steady stream of parents arrived at Broadwater school to pick up children after receiving phone calls through the district’s Intouch notification system. Helena K-8 schools concluded at noon Wednesday for a previously scheduled professional release time.

The district was allowing parents to retrieve children early if they wished, Kultgen said.

Though the decision to evacuate was left up to the school district, the Helena Police Department sprung into action to perform regulatory sweeps of each school after the evacuation announcement was made.

"It was very vague, very non-specific," Capt. Curt Stinson said of the threat.

Stinson said authorities are investigating the threat, including any possible connection to the earlier call on Monday targeting Capital High School. On Monday, police searched the gymnasium at Capital High after a caller reported placing a bomb there. That search turned up nothing, and no one was evacuated.

Filu, one of the department's two K-9 officers, went into three elementary schools Wednesday to sniff out any suspicious packages.

"The rest of them we just basically searched manpower wise," Stinson said.

"When we go in there with just the information we had, it's just to see anything that's out of place," he said.

Helena Police searched the eight elementary schools within city limits and the Lewis and Clark

County Sheriff's Office dispatched deputies to search other county schools.

"The person was descriptive of what kind of package to look for, but not where," said Sheriff Leo Dutton. "As a precaution we notified all the (elementary) schools in Lewis and Clark County and we sent deputies to all of them.

"We sent deputies to Lincoln, Augusta, WolfCreek slash Craig, and I think they went to Canyon Creek," he said. "Then we went to Eastgate, Warren School, Rossiter School and Jim Darcy School."

St. Andrews Catholic School in Helena was also evacuated and searched.

Authorities conducted visual searches at all schools in East Helena, but evacuations were not ordered, according to Superintendent Ron Whitmoyer.

“Police were on the spot within minutes and did a sweep of the buildings,” Whitmoyer said.

"There doesn't seem to be any credible threat inside our buildings," he added.

Recess in East Helena will be held indoors today, and the district temporarily instituted "precautionary admission restrictions" to buildings, Whitmoyer wrote in an e-mail to parents.

Dutton said it's important for anyone in any field of business to know their work space and check for unusual circumstances on a daily basis.

"It's important if you work in a school or wherever you work to be familiar with what is in your work area and know what is new today," he said. "If your work area has a package with no marking on it, that should raise your awareness.

"The City of Helena has a bomb dog, and we have an explosive ordinance disposal team. We work together," he said.

Reporter Derek Brouwer can be reached at derek.brouwer@helenair.com or 447-4081. Follow Derek on Twitter @IR_DerekBrouwer

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(24) Comments

  1. GreatWhite
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    GreatWhite - March 21, 2014 2:05 pm
    I agree with you skooter. No process is necessarily perfect, especially not until it's had to be enacted. And as bad as it sounds, real time enactment seems to garner a bit more reality than a faux bomb threat would.
  2. catspaw
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    catspaw - March 20, 2014 12:21 pm
    Yea, I saw that one too and that was the 1st thing that came to mind.
  3. skooter
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    skooter - March 20, 2014 11:01 am
    I think this was handled fairly well given the scope of the evacuations and number of possible schools affected. Thanks to the teachers, administrators and law enforcement for their actions.

    I'm sure some parents here have some legit complaints…no denying them…but something like this is a very tough situation and from what I can tell handled fairly well given it's rarity. I think there is a tendency to micromanage in hindsight. Let's let everybody learn from this and look at what went right and wrong and continue to adapt the plan for future evacuations.
  4. dolphind3
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    dolphind3 - March 20, 2014 10:32 am
    Anyone else think that cybercast is part of the problem and not part of the solution?
  5. 5thgen
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    5thgen - March 20, 2014 7:56 am
    chaotic: Not at all, think about this a moment, the kids know their backpacks, they were with them, so it's highly likely that no bomb was in the kids back pack. If they left them at the school, how long do you think it would take to search each and every kids back pack. Also any back pack that wasn't one of the kids would immediately stand out. Sound like a good way of reducing the number of suspicious items to look at.
  6. chaotic
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    chaotic - March 19, 2014 9:50 pm
    Did I just read correctly that the threat referenced the bomb being in a backpack, yet the students were instructed to take their backpacks with them when they evacuated?? Please tell me I'm not the only one to find that extremely concerning!
  7. 5thgen
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    5thgen - March 19, 2014 8:43 pm
    Sounds like a lot like the movie TAKEN, however I like how you think, go girl.
  8. TJ Scrib
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    TJ Scrib - March 19, 2014 7:24 pm
    To the person(s) who is/are now making bomb threats against the Valley Grade Schools... Let me make this clear. I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long life of living psycho.... Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you harm one little hair on my child's head, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will spoon feed you your genitals. I am not afraid of prison when it comes to the protection of my child.
  9. Meep
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    Meep - March 19, 2014 3:38 pm
    Thank you to all of the staff at the schools & law enforcement for keeping our children SAFE and ACCOUNTED for during what could be a chaotic situation! YOU ARE VERY MUCH APPRECIATED! THANK YOU!
  10. mhall
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    mhall - March 19, 2014 3:17 pm
    Thank you to our schools for having some mort of plan, to ensure that our children are safe. We picked up our kids from their safe spot and figured since its half day, just get them and have them home. Thank you to our law enforcement, I know dealing with this, as well as upset people is hard. I am glad that this was a hoax, but sickened that someone does this. At least our children are safe this time, who knows what might happen, or what that person is capable of. This should now be considered a felony, not anything less than that.
  11. 5thgen
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    5thgen - March 19, 2014 2:35 pm
    I certainly hope they catch this person, such a waste of resources and time that our children can be learning things other then there are stupid jerks in this world. The sad part is these usually lead to more morons calling in more and more threats. If caught this person should spend at least a month in jail giving them some time to really think about the pain and problems they caused not only to the children, parents, and the professionals at all levels working to keep our children safe. I don't think we tell our Teachers, school staff, Police, Fire and others who work every day for our children's benefit, how much we appreciate them enough.
  12. Dancemom
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    Dancemom - March 19, 2014 1:40 pm
    Thank you to the amazing staff at four Georgians !!! The evacuation was handled professionally! The most thing is my child was safe and out of harms way! Yes she was scared because of the uncertainty but said I knew I was safe I was with my other family and they would not let anything happen to me! Bravo Four Georgians staff!!!
  13. theflowbee
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    theflowbee - March 19, 2014 12:03 pm
    wondering why it's taking so long for people to complain about our teachers being paid too much....isn't that usually the root of all things dysfunctional in our district?
  14. Doctor Whom
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    Doctor Whom - March 19, 2014 11:58 am
    I think the entity that deserves irritation and anger is the individual that called in the threat in the first place.
  15. middleoftheroad
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    middleoftheroad - March 19, 2014 11:39 am
    Cybercast,

    Rather than criticize the authorities that conducted the search and followed protocol, why don't you spend your energy running for superindtendent of schools, or enrolling in the Law Enforcement Academy? Clearly, you have all the solutions and Helena needs someone like you making our decisions for us.

    On a side note, thank you to all of the teachers, paraprofessionals, office staff, etc. at every school who are responsible for evacuating our children in a safe and calm manner. I, for one, appreciate your efforts.
  16. concernedprnt
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    concernedprnt - March 19, 2014 11:36 am
    So you are saying checking your kids out is a bad thing? Imagine and plan for the scenario in which hundreds of parents show up to pick up panicked screaming and crying kids and then the criminal that placed the bomb threat shows up and grabs a kid but no one notices because all the kids are screaming and crying and they walk out the door as quickly as they came in.
  17. concernedprnt
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    concernedprnt - March 19, 2014 11:27 am
    Searching one gymnasium that is separated by a foyer from most of the school and is one giant, almost empty room that had the school administration in the room at the time of the threat verses searching every elementary school in Helena is a much easier and quicker challenge, not to mention there probably were not enough cops on duty at the on-set of the elementary threat. I don't believe I have ever heard of a criminal giving notice that their bomb was placed at a location via a telephone call except in the movies. I do not blame parents for their concern for I too was searching all web sites when I received notification and I recommend all parents enroll on the text and email alert systems, but parents that interfere with the judgment calls of the trained professionals hinder and slow down their efforts and give the bozos that would do such a thing more fuel for their intentions. There is NO WAY possible we can prepare for every situation, all of the time but I do know these professionals have been identifying fictitious threats for decades they have been doing it since I went to Capital over 20 years ago with the same scenarios. It is a known fact that those that commit bombing attacks do so under the radar with little or no advertisement.
  18. cybercast
    Report Abuse
    cybercast - March 19, 2014 11:27 am
    Anyone not from Montana calls Helena hel-A-na.. that doesn't say anything. Anything that says oh someone not from Montana or a foreigner called it in.. thanks for the reassurance.
  19. conservmom
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    conservmom - March 19, 2014 11:12 am
    Thank you to St. Andrew School for a calm and orderly evacuation and the police and sheriff for a rapid sweep.
  20. Montanachick1
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    Montanachick1 - March 19, 2014 11:10 am
    Kultgen listened to the message and said the threat does not appear to be credible, noting that the name of the city was mispronounced...... Are you kidding me? That is all I can say
  21. GreatWhite
    Report Abuse
    GreatWhite - March 19, 2014 11:02 am
    Didn't it relate to the Capital High threat vocalized a specific location, and this one was a general threat.
  22. jujubean
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    jujubean - March 19, 2014 11:02 am
    Thank you, I had the same question.
  23. cybercast
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    cybercast - March 19, 2014 10:54 am
    I picked my kids up from Jefferson. Just a visual search through the building. No k9 search. I wasn't even gonna take the chance of trusting the safety of my kids on a visual inspection and the word of the principle. The principle I would trust with any of my kids alone anyway. I went into the school and was told to pick up my kids and then sign them out of the office. More time in this building that could have a hidden bomb in it.. anyway then I was told over the intercom that I wasn't gonna be allowed to take my kids because they had to many parents at the office.. I told the teacher you will not tell me I won't take my kids. She then let me take my oldest in the school. Then on the way out I signed my kids out and left as fast as I can. I think the school districts and the police need to have a better plan for a widespread threat. In every level of education not just one over another!!!
  24. SheriV
    Report Abuse
    SheriV - March 19, 2014 10:35 am
    There was a bomb threat at Capital High on Monday also but Capital High wasn't evacuated. Superintendent Kultgen comments in this article that "we have to treat it like we have to treat it." And yet in the email I received from the school regarding the threat at Capital High that "Proper protocol was followed." Could someone please verify what the proper protocol is and why would it be different at the Elementary school level and the High school level?

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