By Sam Jack
At 4 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 14, five explosive detection dogs and their handlers were pacing the halls of Goddard’s Eisenhower High School, working to rule out any possibility that a threatening note found two weeks earlier could signal a real threat to student and staff safety.
A student found the handwritten note in a bathroom stall toward the end of the school day on Friday, Feb. 2, and immediately notified school officials.
“From there, the decision was made pretty quickly to put a message out to Eisenhower High School parents, letting them know that a note had been found and we would be looking into it over the next few days,” Goddard Public Schools Chief of Police Ronny Lieurance said.
The note said that an explosion would occur at the school on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14.
A week after the first email notifying parents of the situation, school officials sent out a second email indicating that the threat had been investigated and determined not to be credible.
That message also let parents know that they could keep their children at home on Feb. 14 without incurring an unexcused absence.
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On Tuesday, Feb. 13, according to Lieurance, “A lot of things happened. We stepped up our surveillance of the building from the time the note was found, but really stepped up our game on the 13th. We monitored the building throughout the night through surveillance video, and we physically checked those cameras throughout the night.”
After bomb dogs from the Kansas Highway Patrol completed their sweep of the building, Lieurance sent a 6 a.m. email to staff, telling them about officers’ efforts and reassuring them that the building was safe.
That email did not go out to parents because of concern that the person who made the threat could then read it and somehow misuse the information.
Nearly two-thirds of EHS students – 63 percent – stayed home Feb. 14.
Later that day, many of those students likely turned on the TV and saw breaking news from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a former student murdered 17 people.
“Every time something like in Florida happens, my heart just breaks that much more,” Lieurance said. “You have the shooting we had in 1985 at Goddard Junior High, where the principal was killed and others were injured. Columbine, Sandy Hook, and now Florida. It takes a toll, but it makes us that much more steadfast in our resolve to do the very best we can to keep everybody safe.”
Lieurance said he can understand why many parents kept their children home Feb. 14, but he still regrets that someone’s cruel note caused them to miss school.
“If we as the school police had any feeling at all that this was a credible threat and that there was a real danger associated with it, we would not have let anyone near the building that day,” he said. “We probably would have shut down that entire campus, if not the entire district, for the day. In this case, that just was not necessary.”
Lieurance and his officers are continuing efforts to determine who wrote the threatening note. He said they came up with a short list of possible suspects based on surveillance video.
“Handwriting examiners are looking at the note as we speak,” he said Monday. “That’s how serious we take this. We’re going to exhaust everything at our disposal to try and identify who the perpetrator was.”
Local districts prepared to evaluate, respond
Officials from all four Times-Sentinel school districts said they have plans and procedures in place, both for dealing with threats and for responding to emergency situations.
In a letter he recently sent to parents, Cheney superintendent David Grover wrote that the district has a crisis team with over 25 members, including both school employees and local first responders.
“We regularly practice tornado, fire and lockdown drills at each of our buildings,” Grover wrote. “Research shows that no matter how much we practice and plan, it may depend on a staff member making the best possible decision in a particular moment in time.”
Clearwater superintendent Paul Becker said Clearwater schools do intruder drills once per semester. The drills are announced in advance.
“That’s because, in case something like that were to actually happen, we want people to know that it’s not a drill, it’s for real,” Becker said.
Clearwater’s current bond issue construction campaign includes security and safety improvements, including storm shelters and vestibule systems that require visitors to be buzzed in or routed through an office. That is also true of Goddard’s current bond construction.
Lieurance said that he tries to coordinate crisis drills at Goddard schools two to four times a year.
“Up until now, we have pretty much done ‘shelter in place’ type drills, but we’re beginning to change those drills up. ‘Run, hide, fight’ is a terminology that has been around for a little while now,” he said. “If you have good information that the threat is on the opposite side of the building from where you’re located, figure out a way to get out, run and seek safety. Or the last resort, fight.”
Renwick superintendent Tracy Bourne said that Renwick dealt with a bomb threat at a Cheney versus Garden Plain basketball game several years ago. As at Eisenhower last month, they called in bomb-sniffing dogs and determined there was no bomb. The game proceeded after a delay.
“Witnesses and materials make it easier to determine a threat’s credibility. More than anything, we’d ask for the police’s assistance,” Bourne said.