Shawn J. Soper and Charlene Sharpe
BERLIN — While school is not in session today due to the Martin Luther King holiday, the investigation into last week’s rash of bomb threats at Worcester County schools continues.
The Worcester County Bureau of Investigation (WCBI) is the lead agency on the investigation locally and is working with state and federal partners. Worcester County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Ed Schreier said on Monday the investigation is ongoing and is not limited to Worcester County. Schreier also said the allied law enforcement agencies are being proactive in an attempt to allay some of the fears in the community before school resumes on Tuesday.
“We would not want to go into great detail due to the open investigation, but we are checking the schools,” he said. “Our priority is to help provide a safe environment for the community we serve and attempt to eliminate the fear some may have.”
Last Tuesday morning, Ocean City Elementary School received a bomb threat from an individual. The school was evacuated and multiple law enforcement agencies responded and thoroughly checked the building before giving the students and staff the all clear to return. Tuesday’s threat at OCES was one of many across the Delmarva with similar threats reported in Sussex County in Delaware. Complicating Tuesday’s bomb threat at OCES, shortly after students and staff returned, smoke was detected in a classroom in the west end of the building and the school was evacuated again. That incident was reported to have been an HVAC issue and once again the all clear was given and school resumed, although many parents and guardians had picked up their children during the two unrelated back-to-back incidents.
On Wednesday, a bomb threat was called into Stephen Decatur High and the school’s roughly 1,300 students were evacuated to neighboring Stephen Decatur Middle School. Again, local and state law enforcement responded en masse and the school was swept for any potential devices. The all clear was given and students and staff returned to school. On Thursday, the Worcester County Bureau of Investigation (WCBI) charged a juvenile, who is also a student at Decatur, with arson threat and disturbing school activities. The Department of Juvenile Services was notified and the suspect was remanded to the Lower Eastern Shore Children’s Center in Salisbury.
Around 12:24 p.m. on Friday, a bomb threat was again called into Stephen Decatur High School and the students and staff were evacuated to the old Harley Davidson property across the street. Shortly thereafter, a second threat was called in via “robocall” to all Worcester County schools. Every school in Worcester County was evacuated — public or private — and multiple law enforcement agencies swept the facilities to no avail.
While the three-day weekend has given parents and students time to unwind after recent bomb threats at area schools, many continue to worry about what the coming days will bring.
An online petition calling for the temporary closure of county schools and numerous posts on social media illustrate the unease that remains in the community as little has been made public about last week’s threats.
“I personally don’t think these bomb threats are real but the trauma the threats have caused people is very real,” parent Christina Ager said.
The school system Monday released an “Open Letter To Our Community” from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson, assuring the community that staff would continue to work with law enforcement so the calls don’t continue.
“WCPS expresses the highest compliment to our community partners, the Sherriff’s Department and other agencies. Highly professional, exceptionally well trained and competent, we have the greatest respect for what law enforcement accomplished and the strain being placed on their resources,” Wilson wrote. “Similarly, I complement our principals, staff, students and parents. Each part of our team has been tested and met the challenge. We look forward to resuming normal operations Tuesday. When we are threatened, we use these opportunities to be stronger. With your support we will continue to
assure our schools are safe places to learn.”
Carrie Sterrs, the school system’s coordinator of public relations, stressed that while the threats had created a feeling of fear they have thus far proven to be just that—threats.
“We’re operating business as usual tomorrow but the safety of our students and staff is of utmost importance,” said Sterrs. “Everything we’ve had so far has been an unfounded threat.”
According to Sterrs, no additional security measures will be in place when schools reopen Tuesday, although there has been extensive communication with police during the past week.
“We did a thorough review with law enforcement of all of our procedures,” she said.
Nevertheless, a fair amount of people are advocating for the closure of schools. Others say they will keep their children at home until the investigation is closed.
An online petition at www.thepetitionsite.com calls for Worcester County Public Schools to close until the matter has been resolved. As of 12:40 p.m. Monday, 175 people had signed the petition.
“What has been going on is completely wrong,” the site reads. “Bomb threats day after day, keeping everyone uneasy and upset. No one can believe that such a thing could be happening. We all as a community have to come together and sign this petition.”
Ager, who has two children attending Stephen Decatur High School, says she believes more communication would ease the minds of students and parents. She pointed out that many weren’t even aware that robotic calls threatening bombs had been made in other areas of the country.
“I don’t recall it being mentioned anywhere that the same thing happened in Massachusetts and Florida the same day and across the country in Texas the day before,” Ager said. “To my knowledge, we were only told about the ones in Virginia and Delaware. Most people I have spoken with think that the Eastern Shore is an isolated target- which tends to make cases like this a little scarier because it’s too close to home.”
She says it’s important for people to know that while every threat should be taken seriously, schools here are not the only ones being targeted.
“As a community we need to stay strong and vigilant, and trust that our law enforcement is doing all they can, but know this is much bigger than a small town threat,” she said. “Without jeopardizing any ongoing investigations, I do think that the school system and law enforcement should address this issue with the community.”