In a trend that seems to be passing from one area school district to another, the Miami Trace and Washington C.H. school districts were under heightened supervision last weekend after a double threat of pipe bombs closed schools and cancelled athletic events Friday. After a lengthy search, no pipe bombs were found at any of the schools.
The bomb threats came during the wee morning hours Friday and were called into the Washington C.H. Police Department dispatch.
A two-hour school delay was initially issued but David Lewis, Miami Trace Local Schools superintendent, said it was necessary to close schools for the entire day in order to complete a thorough investigation.
Washington C.H. City Schools, Miami Trace Local Schools and the Fayette Christian School were all closed.
The Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, Washington C.H. Police Department, ATF, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Columbus Fire Department, Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, and the Franklin County Bomb Squad and Canine Units responded to the threats and searched the schools.
Two bomb threats were called into the Washington C.H. Police Department dispatch and answered by police dispatcher Erin Sanderson. The voice is the same in both calls but sounds like a male voice artificially generated using technology or filtered through voice modification technology.
When the first bomb threat was called in at 4:26 a.m. Friday, police dispatcher Sanderson answered with, “Police department, Sanderson.”
Next the voice, sounding somewhat distorted and mechanical, can be heard saying, “Good morning … (distorted word) … I am a pipe bomb specialist. I have four pipe bombs ready. I am going to your high school today between 7 and 2 o’clock. Thank you have a good day.”
Sanderson can be heard on the line saying, “Hello … what did you say?”
Fourteen minutes later the caller made a second call to police dispatch at 4:40 a.m, where again, dispatch officer Sanderson answered: “Police department, Sanderson.”
The second message was similar to the first: “Good morning Mrs. Sanderson. I wanted to call back and let you know I am blowing up your high school today. Please be aware: I am blowing your high school up today. I have four pipe bombs. I am ready. Anytime between 7 and 2. Thank you.”
Following the two calls, the dispatcher notified the WPD shift supervisor, who notified Washington City Schools Superintendent Matt McCorkle and Miami Trace Superintendent David Lewis. The Fayette County Sheriff’s Office was also notified.
A sweep with K-9s through all elementary, middle and high schools in the districts took more than three hours Friday morning. Buses and bus garages were cleared as well.
Last spring, the Hillsboro City Schools experienced at least five bomb threats. They experienced another one in late September.
The Wilmington and Clinton-Massie school districts also had bomb threats in September.
The Greenfield Exempted Village Schools received two bomb threats in October.
No actual bombs were found after any of those threats.
Most of those making threats in Highland County were found to be juvenile students and several of them have been prosecuted and sentenced to time in detention.
In Fayette County, the Washington C.H. Police Department said the investigation into who made the threats is ongoing. “We’re in contact with our telephone contract provider to try to find the source of the calls,” said WPD Lt. Jon Long.
School superintendents issued statements after the schools were cleared and secured.
“We are thankful for the cooperation between agencies and the expedited manner in which the investigation was conducted. Student safety will always be a top priority for our school district. Thank you for your patience and understanding during this difficult and unforeseen incident. School will resume on Tuesday, following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday. Have a good weekend,” wrote Lewis.
McCorkle, Washington City Schools superintendent, said that athletic events for Friday were cancelled as well.
“Classes will resume on Tuesday, January 17th,” wrote McCorkle.
There is no school Monday, Jan. 16 in observance of the holiday commemorating the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Miami Trace school officials said this is the first instance of a bomb threat the school has had in decades.
Debbie Southward, Miami Trace Middle School vice principal, said she has not seen anything like this in the 20 years she has been working in Fayette County schools.