School administrators evacuated from building
LOUISIANA—The Bulldogs were set to return to school after classes on Friday to face off against the N. Callaway Thunderbirds. But that would not happen. Louisiana R-II School Superintendent Todd Smith got a call. An online social media post threatening to blow up the school was deemed credible enough to shut everything down and prepare a possible evacuation of the areas closest to the campus.
“I got a phone call from Ann Wallace,” Smith said. The school’s bookkeeper told him just before 5 p.m. that she had received a call from City Administrator Kelly Henderson, who had asked for school contact numbers. Todd learned that Henderson told Wallace there was a bomb threat.
When he learned this, Smith called Henderson, who said he was with Activities Director Ryan Griffin and Louisiana Police Chief Will Jones. They were working on what to do next.
“When I arrived at school—the Louisiana Police Department had swept the buildings, “evacuating everyone,” Smith said. At that time, he still had not spoken with the local police officials.
“I took the administrators to my office to discuss procedures and delegate responsibilities,” Smith said.
But they were interrupted and told to leave the building by LAPD personnel.
Smith said the administrators went home, and he stayed behind to wait on Jones.
The police were waiting on bomb dogs while Smith sat in his truck across the street.
At just after 7:30 p.m., Smith said the dogs were there working the building.
“They wanted me to be prepared—if a device was found, they would need school buses to evacuate citizens,” Smith said he was told. It wasn’t until after 9 p.m. that Smith said he received the all-clear from Jones.
During this time, Smith received a copy of a screen shot that showed the text message that had sparked the entire event.
It started out: “Ima blow up LMS, LHS, CHS, GHS, GMS and CES I got bombs placed in the school and ima shoot every single one of y’all.” The rest of the post was filled with curse words and racist remarks. Toward the end, the poster mentions the town Loris.
Smith said the next morning he received a text from Griffin with his observation about Loris being a city in South Carolina.
Smith said he Googled Loris and found a story about the arrest of two youths who had posted a SNAP Chat threatening Loris schools—LHS, LMS, etc.
Smith and the Louisiana School Board were a little upset with the lack of communication between law enforcement and school officials.
Smith said he believes they could have resolved that this wasn’t a credible threat much earlier had he and others with the school been kept in the loop during the investigation.
“If Griff can figure it out over a bowl of cereal—why couldn’t our police department take the time to do a little investigation. The communication and exclusion of at the very least, me, is a sign of poor performance and a concerning lack of any system in place,” Smith told the school board.
“When they (the police) received the ‘threat,’” he said, “they should have shared it with us and asked our principals if anything rang a bell. They didn’t ask for visitor logs, video, or anything.”
Smith said he had talked with Louisiana High School Principal Nick Heggemann to ask if anything was amiss in the school.
Faculty and staff walk the halls throughout the day, he noted, and they would have known if something was out of place.
The school system has procedures in place for this type of event, Smith said, but all of that came to a halt when he and his administrators were locked out of the building.
The individuals in South Carolina, he said, had already been arrested before events unfolded here in Louisiana.
“That’s one of your worst nightmares—a bomb threat,” Smith said. “Really, in your heart, you know there’s no bomb in the school, but you can’t take that risk. Our procedures were mitigating that ahead of it.”
He did note that he would have delayed or canceled the basketball game depending on what they learned during the investigation.
He said he was pleased with the way the school handled the situation.
“No matter how you cut it, it was an intense night,” he said.
School Board President Jenna Loveless said it was important that the school let parents know that this wasn’t a targeted threat against the Louisiana school system, as was previously thought when they were first notified about it.
The rest of the school board agreed with Smith, saying that the situation could have been handled better.
The Louisiana Police Department was working on a statement about the incident, but it had not distributed it before the Press-Journal went to press.
Smith said he would be putting out a statement for the families in Louisiana about what happened to help alleviate any fears they might have about the event.