2018-10-11 / Front Page

USA issues ‘secure mode’ after phoned-in bomb threat

By Ben Muir

Three officers leave the USA elementary school last week during a bomb threat situation.Photo by Ben Muir Three officers leave the USA elementary school last week during a bomb threat situation.
Photo by Ben Muir
SEBEWAING - Last week, the Unionville- Sebewaing Area (USA) School District answered a phone call that led to a two-hour lockdown and a near summons of bomb-sniffing K-9s.

At around 3 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 5, USA went into secure mode. The fire department blocked-off the entrance to the elementary school – no one in or out – as sheriff’s deputies and local police officers began scanning the grounds for an explosive device that was threatened to be “in a field.”

The response stemmed from a call made to a school official around the time students were set to leave for the day.

The caller, with a heavy “Arabic” accent, said he was in a white van in a parking lot, requesting a 9-year-old child, according to statements in the police report. The caller then said there was an explosive device in a field. District Superintendent George Rierson noted in a letter to USA parents that the caller never identified a specific location or that he was even attempting to contact the school.


The fire department uses an off-road vehicle to search the USA campus last week after an explosive device was threatened to be in a field. 
Photo by Ben Muir The fire department uses an off-road vehicle to search the USA campus last week after an explosive device was threatened to be in a field. Photo by Ben Muir Later in the conversation, the caller asked if he was “speaking to a Starbucks,” and requested 12 paninis, according to the police report.

During secure mode, officers circulated in and out of the elementary school and later walked across a field to the nearby middle school. The fire department meanwhile used an off-road vehicle to navigate the grounds. They searched drains, weeds, wooded areas, tall grass and playground equipment.

Parents sat in their cars in the parking lot – some stood with others – waiting for their kids to be released. After about an hour and a half, one parent told the VIEW that the response by law enforcement was too slow and the search process was taking too long. Another said he would understand if it was an active shooter situation, but, since it was a bomb threat, he should have been able to remove his children. Others thanked the officers for searching as long as they did.

In the letter to parents was a note that the district would be releasing a survey to parents in order to gather information to “improve our response and communication if security measures are necessary in the future.”

“Unionville-Sebewaing Area Schools staff coordinated their efforts to provide a high level of care for our students during the implemented security measure,” Rierson wrote in the letter. “I cannot praise them enough for their effort as we extended our day for nearly two hours.”

Throughout the secure mode, the district sent multiple emails to parents in an attempt to keep them abreast of the incident and discourage the spread of rumors and panic.

“I truly appreciated the consideration of our parents who, despite the understandable anxiety of the moment, provided us the necessary time for police to conduct a thorough search,” the letter reads, “to assure that the area was secure and to allow for students to be released at the end of the day in a safe and orderly fashion.”

The Huron County Sheriff’s Office and Sebewaing Police Department led the investigation that started around 3 p.m. Officers stayed at the elementary school to facilitate the students’ release into a crowd of parents huddled outside the building, around 4:50 p.m.

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