Originally created 05/29/99

Lonely pupils



GRANITEVILLE -- As Principal Glenn Sanders described it, Friday morning at Byrd Elementary School started as it normally does.

He arrived at school at around 6:30 a.m., and custodians began to arrive at about 7:45 to open the school. About 15 pupils had already been dropped off by their parents.

A custodian opened a back door and saw one of the buses vandalized with spray paint, and the school called the sheriff's office to investigate.

But all normality ended for the morning when the same custodian discovered the words "bomb inside school" and some vulgarities spray-painted on the outside wall of one of the classroom buildings.

In the next three hours, the school would be evacuated, bomb-sniffing dogs would sweep through, and two juveniles who aren't even pupils would be arrested for spray-painting the threat on the wall.

Pupils were evacuated to the neighboring Calvary Baptist Church at around 7 a.m. and were led back to the school in single file at 10 a.m. after police had cleared the building.

"We always take precautions when it could be dangerous to children," Mr. Sanders said as his pupils were led single-file back into the school.

Aiken County sheriff's deputies and dog teams from the Savannah River Site found no bomb. By 9:15 a.m., deputies had arrested a 13-year-old boy and girl in connection with the threat, said Lt. Michael Frank, sheriff's spokesman.

Deputies found evidence of the vandalism at an abandoned home a few blocks away from the school and arrested the teens at a relative's home. The teens will be held by the state Department of Juvenile Justice until a hearing in Aiken County Family Court on Tuesday.

They are charged with two counts of malicious injury to real property, making a bomb threat and disturbing schools.

One of the juveniles arrested had been previously expelled from Aiken County schools, and the other was home-schooled, said Aiken County School Superintendent Linda Eldridge.

"It's my understanding that they have confessed," she said. "They led sheriff's deputies to the paint can."

Byrd Elementary School has a student body of 610. Teachers brought 200 of them back from the church Friday morning, and another 20 arrived for afternoon kindergarten, Mr. Sanders said.

More than 120 were checked out of school at the church by their parents, and a good number of parents opted not to drop their children off at school when they saw the police cars and blocked roads, he said.

Todd Bauer can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.