OCEAN CITY – As bomb threats at local schools continue into a second week, some parents are not only becoming frustrated by the public nuisance created by these threats, but others are pulling their kids from school altogether.
“I will not be sending my kids to school today and I’m unsure about the rest of the week,” said concerned parent Jennifer Howard, “I am truly grateful to the teachers, but I am having a difficult time with the board’s decision to make it business as usual. I do believe most of these threats are most likely unfounded. But, what if they’re not? What are they doing about it? I would just like to hear something is being done. I’ve heard nothing, at least, nothing that has satisfied me.”
On Tuesday morning, Stephen Decatur High School received its second automated or robocall bomb threat in less than a week, and students and teachers were evacuated and the school was searched by authorities. Witnesses reported long lines of parents waiting to remove their kids from the nearby evacuation site altogether within minutes of the threat. As of 11:30 a.m., the school has been cleared. Normal operations have resumed at the school, according to Worcester County Public Schools.
In neighboring Wicomico County, Salisbury Middle School received a similar automated bomb threat on Tuesday morning, less than an hour after SDHS was cleared. Students remained in class while a sweep of the building took place.
Tracey Sahler, Wicomico County Public School’s Public Information Officer said, “it’s been a highly stressful time for everyone in our community. Everyone has been on high alert but the safety of our students and staff is our highest priority.”
With each passing day, and with each additional threat, law enforcement officials and school officials are coming under intensifying scrutiny as worried parents are beginning to doubt the merits of a “prankster” scenario as the driving force behind these threats, because the culprits have yet to be apprehended. That doubt has ramped up concerns that these threats are much less of a cruel joke and are more of a well-orchestrated sinister nature.
But, a former investigator, who wished to remain anonymous out of respect for the current investigators working the case, told The Dispatch that even if the calls are coming from “pranksters,” tracing the origins of those threatening calls is extremely challenging.
“Technology has unfortunately enabled people with a bit of savvy to do things like this and get away with it fairly easily,” said the former investigator, “but what I do know is that local authorities are completely dedicated to catching these people and are doing everything they can, but a search like this takes time.”
The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office tried to alleviate some of the public’s concern with a three paragraph long message on social media on Monday night. The post mirrored the former investigator’s sentiments, and emphasized that solving this investigation as quickly as possible was of the utmost importance.
“Technology today allows these types of calls to be made autonomously, making it difficult to trace and identify those responsible,” read the message. “Your children’s safety is our top priority. We will be conducting additional patrols of all of our schools and working with our local agencies to make sure your respective schools are protected as best we can.”
The Sheriff’s Office continued, “The Sheriff’s Office, along with our allied partners in Law Enforcement, are working closely with our State and Federal Partners to bring this matter to a conclusion.”
The former investigator stressed that concerned parents need to understand that incidents like this can sometimes unfortunately highlight the torpid pace of the criminal justice system, pointing out that in a normal situation, it can take up to two weeks for investigators to subpoena phone records and URL addresses’ activity.
“Local officials can call on federal investigators to help fast track the subpoena process, but in most cases, the feds don’t come to help unless they are asked directly”, the investigator noted.
Worcester County Board of Education members reportedly met early this morning at the Board of Education in Newark in a closed session prior to their regularly scheduled public meeting at 12:30 p.m.
The audience is likely to be filled with concerned citizens and parents who are looking for answers ranging from what is being done to catch the people responsible to whether or not absences from class will be excused while the investigation is ongoing.
Cana Morningstar, who has four children in three schools in the Worcester County Public School system, applauded the efforts made by the school system, especially the teachers thus far, and called for parents to try and remain calm for their kids.
“Honestly, common sense tells me that there was no ‘real threat,’” she said, “especially after the unfounded threats made in Salisbury and Delaware. All in all, I think the school did a great job considering the chaos. We tried to use the event as a teaching moment rather than get all riled up about it. I feel safe sending our kids to school.”
Still, as each passing day provides new twists and seemingly new threats on local schools, the fact remains that the longer this investigation goes on, the more likely parents will take matters into their own hands and keep their kids at home.