Classes canceled for 1,100
December 13, 2005
JOEL DAVIDSON/Frontiersman reporter
For the second time in two weeks, criminal acts interrupted Mat-Su School District schedules. This time, a bomb scare forced Colony High School to cancel classes Monday morning.
Alaska State Troopers, bomb-detection dogs and a military bomb squad descended on Colony High School Monday morning, after students evacuated the school due to a phoned-in threat. A male caller issued the threat shortly before 9 a.m. and provided enough specifics to spur school officials to evacuate the facility.
After seven hours of extensive sweeps in and around the school, officials found no explosives. At 4 p.m., students and staff were finally allowed to retrieve their belongings and vehicles from school grounds.
As of press time Monday night, there were no suspects, but the investigation is continuing.
During the evacuation, approximately 1,100 Colony High students walked across a snowy parking lot to nearby Colony Middle School, where they waited in the gym until parents and guardians arrived to take them home.
At the high school, trained K-9 teams from the Anchorage Airport Police and Fire Department and the U.S. Air Force, searched the school for evidence of a bomb. When K-9 dogs located a suspicious smelling locker, the Explosive Ordinance Devise team from Ft. Richardson Army Base in Anchorage went in to investigate.
“They brought in a giant armored vehicle and a fellow dressed in an armored suit that looks like something you would go to Mars with,” Colony Principal Cydney Duffin said.
As cutting-edge technology scanned through the school, students missed most of the academic day and may have to make it up later. Colony Middle School students continued classes, albeit under challenging circumstances. All other district schools maintained regular schedules.
The bomb threat, however, turned a routine morning at Colony High and Colony Middle schools into what one administrator described as “organized chaos.”
“You know it was crazy this morning,” Colony Middle School Principal John Miller said. “The kids didn't, panic but it was pretty crazy.”
Duffin said her students were prepared for the threat after practicing a school-wide bomb threat evacuation just last week. Duffin added that the incident still has far-reaching consequences in terms of missed class time and costly man-hours.
The bomb scare follows an incident two weeks ago in which four Mat-Su students disabled the school district's bus fleet and caused most schools to close for the entire day.
Duffin said she thinks student pranks are growing more costly for the district, especially this year.
“I don't think there is an increase in the total number of pranks, but there has been an increase in the expense and the man-hours that are wasted in responding to them,” she explained.
Parents and guardians, too, are affected by the recent shenanigans. Automated phone calls went out from the school district to notify Colony High parents of the evacuation. Private cell phones and e-mails quickly disseminated the information, which resulted in a long line of moms, dads, grandparents and family friends who suffered through freezing temperatures and falling snow as they waited outside the middle school to pick up kids.
Many parents missed work or had to phone friends or grandparents to help out.
Before taking students home, each guardian had to show proper identification and be entered into a computer system.
“I was impressed with the kids,” Miller said. “They sat in the bleachers and talked quietly. They were incredibly well behaved. It made me proud.”
As for the bomb threat perpetrators, Principal Duffin said she hopes they are prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.
“A couple years ago we had a bomb threat. We caught the two kids, and there were severe sanctions,” she said. “We very often find out who's at the bottom of these. Hopefully we locate whoever's responsible and there will be stiff consequences.”
School district information specialist Kim Floyd said she thinks stiff penalties are a good deterrent.
“It seems like we've had quite a few incidents recently,” she said. “One of the best methods of deterring these instances is to fully prosecute.”
Wasilla High Principal Dwight Probasco had to deal with two of his own students who were allegedly involved in the recent bus vandalism. On Monday he said he's also had to deal with bomb threats over the last few years.
Probasco said he isn't sure why the schools have had so many problems recently.
“In the last month, there is definitely an increase,” he said. “I don't know what drives it, but I'm hoping we hit a dry spell for three or four years. I think that would be fair.”
Contact Joel Davidson at
352-2266 or joel.davidson@