Bomb threats are becoming so routine at Glenn Hills Middle School that children are bringing footballs and playing cards to pass the time during the long evacuations.
The threats are almost a part of the curriculum, as expected as homeroom and a pop quiz.
There were two bomb threats Monday. There was another Tuesday morning. And police have recorded more than a dozen since the school year began, including seven the week of Jan. 10.
On Tuesday, a boy called the school secretary at 10:30 a.m. and said he was going to blow up the school "shortly."
Seconds later, dispatchers called in the bomb squad, fire department, ambulance crew and a sheriff's investigator. In the school, pupils left their classrooms for the cold.
"Sometimes, we're out there for at least an hour and teachers just let us play," eighth-grader Carlos Warthen said. "It's irritating."
The continuing threats led Superintendent Charles Larke on Tuesday to approve the purchase of caller ID for two main lines at the middle school.
"Our main concern is the safety of our students," Dr. Larke said in a news release. "We must deter whoever is calling in these threats for the sake of our students and our staff who must endure the cold weather and lose time for instruction while their school is checked for the presence of a bomb. This must stop."
The calls continue, even with the arrests of three people accused of making threats at the middle school and four others for incidents at two high schools.
The sheriff's office and fire department are frustrated.
"Bomb threats are slap out of control," Sheriff Ronnie Strength said Tuesday.
Capt. P.A. Williams, of the sheriff's bomb squad, said six sheriff's officers and two bomb-sniffing dogs are required to respond each time. In addition, the fire department responds and an ambulance remains on standby.
Glenn Hills Middle School is a large school to search, requiring between 45 minutes to an hour. The calls require the teachers to take the children 300 feet away from the building. If officers find a suspicious package, that safety zone expands to 500 feet.
But the evacuations are required by state law, Capt. Williams said.
"Nobody wants that on their shoulders that they left these kids in the school and it was for something that was real. How do you explain that? You can't tell people, 'Well, we had a call, but we just thought it was a joke,'" he said. "We have to do it every time."
Police say the callers always sound young and use three-way calling or other tricks to avoid being traced. Sheriff's investigators won't reveal how they caught previous callers, but they have cases pending against six juveniles and an adult.
Capt. Williams said he would like the court system to handle any future arrests with seriousness.
"I don't think the kids realize the consequences of what they are doing," he said. "When we find the people who are responsible, I am inclined that something more serious should be done than just a child is turned over to the parents. The parents should suffer a little bit too."
Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Six juveniles and an adult were charged in January with making bomb threats or pulling fire alarms at Glenn Hills middle and high schools and at the Academy of Richmond County. They range in age from 12 to 19.
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