By Kurtis Workman
Press Staff Writer
Law enforcement and emergency services responded to a bomb threat at American Falls High School on Thursday, and Friday, March 7 and 8.
Power County Sheriff Jim Jeffries issued a press release on Thursday, March 7, that said the threat specified American Falls High School and Friday, March 8, as the target and date of the intended bombing.
Law enforcement officials responded immediately to the school on Thursday to secure the building and ensure the safety of staff and students. After securing the building, law enforcement officials worked with school administration to formulate an operational plan.
A bomb detection K-9 officer was called in from the Pocatello Police Department and Idaho State Police assisted Power County Sheriff deputies, American Falls Police officers and school staff in searching the building.
The school officials decided to hold classes on Friday despite the threat. AFHS Principal Jeff Read said student safety is paramount in any decision, but it is important to demonstrate normalcy as well.
“This is a disruption either way. Either you cancel school, or you try to have as normal of a day as possible. If you cancel school, you green light the idea that it can create a day off,” said Read.
Officers continued to patrol the school through the night. When students arrived on Friday they entered through a single set of doors to the commons area. Police and members of the Power County Emergency Services inspected each student’s bags before allowing them to enter the building.
American Falls School District Superintendent Dr. Ron Bolinger said the screening was conducted perfectly.
“We anticipated delays with respect to getting students into the building. The students were very understanding and respectful, and there was no delay in getting them into the building,” said Bolinger.
Incident Commander, Power County Sheriff Detective Sergeant Max Sprague, said the cooperation between the different agencies made securing the situation simpler than it may have been if there had not been a plan in place.
“All of our preparation leading up to an event like this has helped immensely. The cooperation we have with the schools and other agencies is working very well. Everyone took to their duties and performed flawlessly,” said Sprague.
Jeffries echoed Sprague’s statements.
“Everyone came together, I am so grateful for the cooperation we have received,” said Jeffries.
Bolinger said while there was no indication that the threat was to be completed, the response by various agencies demonstrated the level of concern all involved had for American Falls students.
“One thing we can do today is say everyone has done what they can to ensure the safety of our students,” said Bolinger.
Jeffries said there is no indication that the bomb threat was connected to any other incidents at the high school.
“It is very, very unlikely this connected to anything else,” said Jeffries.
Sprague also said there were no indications of a connection.
“This is an independent problem from any other we have had at the school,” Sprague said.
Read said he believes the person that made the threat does not understand the ramifications of their actions.
“I would like to find the individual who did this because I am sure they don’t understand the cost or impact of something like this and it needs to be explained,” Read said.
Bolinger agreed with Read.
“We are doing everything we can to identify whoever did this so the unintended consequences can be fully explained,” said Bolinger.
According to Read some of the unintended consequences of Friday’s threat include rescheduling a dance, moving an end-of-season banquet and canceling practices for spring sports.
Bolinger said the loss of a day of instruction was particularly distressing.
“It seems the goal of this person was to be disruptive and in that respect they were successful. Each day is precious to us to get done the things we have to get done in a school year and we have lost that day,” Bolinger said.
For some students the day was not lost, but the majority of the AFHS student body did avoid the school for the day.
Read said attendance was low in the morning and declined throughout the day.
“There were a lot more at the start than now, later in the day. I am guessing we are below 40 percent,’ said Read.
Read stated there would be a reward for the students that were still in school at the end of the day Friday.
“We have a thing called Random Wednesday where we allow students who have excelled in some area, usually attendance, to have an extended lunch period. On Wednesday, March 13, we will most likely have a Random Wednesday where the students that stuck it out today will have a longer lunch period,” said Read.
Jeffries said the decision to keep students out of school is a choice only parents can make.
“The decision to hold classes was made by school administrators, and low attendance did make it easy to secure the building, but ultimately the choice to keep kids home today is up to the parents. I cannot criticize that choice,” said Jeffries.
Students that did attend classes seemed to be handling the disruption in stride, according to Read.
“I think they are handling it well. They are moving from class to class well, and I am seeing smiles in the hallways,” said Read.
While no type of explosive was found in or around the school, and no damage was done.
Jeffries said there were lessons to be found in the day.
“Things went according to plan, the students and staff were very respectful and understanding, but we did learn a lot about our procedures. We learned that those procedures worked well, and there are things we can improve, but I think there are always things you can learn from every situation,” said Jeffries.
Sprague agreed the threat did offer a learning opportunity for those involved.
“You never want to do it in a situation like this, but it is good to see our policies and procedures in action. This is an experience we can take a lot of lessons from,” said Sprague.
Law enforcement and school officials were quick to express their gratitude for the support and assistance they received while dealing with the threat.
“I want to thank all of the law enforcement and EMS personnel from all over the area that assisted us. It is a real testament to how well our community works together,” said Bolinger.
“I appreciate the city officers, the deputies that came in on overtime, EMS, ISP, Pocatello Police Department, the staff at the school. There are so many people that came together to help us today. If I have forgotten to mention anyone I hope they understand how grateful I am. It is just a matter of there being so many people coming together at a time like this. The amount of support and assistance we have received speaks to how strong this community is,” said Jeffries.
In the wake of a disrupted day Read said the goal for Monday, March 11, was to reestablish a routine.
“We have to get back to a routine because the students need that routine. For our students that are more drastically affected, they need to see that routine to ensure their sense of security,” said Read.
The investigation into the bomb threat is continuing and a $500 reward is being offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for issuing the threat.