Northwest NEWS

March 18, 2002

Local News

Threatening note closes school

By Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   Someone taped a note to the front door of Kingsgate-area Kamiakin Junior High saying there was a bomb in the building. A school custodian found the note about 6:45 a.m. Wednesday, March 13, and phoned police.
   King County Sheriff's deputies responded immediately to the Lake Washington School District junior high, located at 14111 132nd Ave. N.E. They started a visual search of the campus well over an hour before the students started arriving for their 8:15 a.m. classes. Bomb-sniffing dogs were brought in to aid in the search.
   However at 9 a.m., with the search yet incomplete, students - who were assembled in the gymnasium - were evacuated.
   According to King County Sheriff's Sgt. Greg Dymerski, media relations officer for the department, "Logistically, the decision was made to make sure nothing was in the gym so that they could safely place the children there, and not out in the cold."
   At 9 a.m., the school made the decision to evacuate the building, he said.
   "It was an orderly evacuation," said Dymerski. "Teachers walked the students down the block to John Muir Elementary."
   Peter Daniels, communications director for the school district, said at Muir, those who came to school by bus were loaded onto buses to be returned home. Those who walked to school remained at Muir Elementary with their teachers. An hour later, the remaining students were sent home while investigators continued their search.
   Detectives issued an "all clear" around 11 a.m. Teachers remained on hand to account for their students. With class lists in hand, they were able to tell parents which students boarded buses and which ones walked home.
   Afterward, staff returned to the school where they and Principal Paul Spoor debriefed the emergency, evaluating the school's emergency plan, the staff's and students' roles in the plan.
   "You can plan for an emergency, but unless you actually implement it, you don't know what you have," said Daniels, adding that each of the district's schools has its own tailored version of an emergency plan. Said Daniels, "The desire was to contact all parents. But that was pretty tough, considering staff was not in its own building and did not have access to its phones. Teachers were using cell phones, but it was very, very difficult."
   Daniels said Principal Spoor and staff would like to meet with the school's PTSA to discuss - and reach an agreement with parents about - what the school should do about releasing students in an emergency such as this one.
   Obviously, the school has snow-day and earthquake emergency plans which parents can access online at Lake Washington School District's Web site, www.lkwash.wednet.edu, or at the Puget Sound Emergency Communications System's Web site, www.psecs.wednet.edu. But this situation was a little different.
   Daniels heard from Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Division Julie Goldsmith, who was on the Kamiakin campus the day of the incident, that students remained calm and cooperative throughout the ordeal. They were not unnecessarily nervous or agitated; there was not a lot of horseplay or hysterics, Goldsmith told Daniels.
   "And when you consider that by the time some were dismissed, they spent almost two hours just standing and waiting with no directive, that's pretty good," said Daniels.
   Close to 800 seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders at school that day were detained, and some parents have asked why the students were kept in the area so long.
   Daniels replied, "We relied on the police, their expertise. They assessed the level of danger. They treated the incident seriously. ... We were hoping to get the "all clear" earlier, but police had to make a thorough search. They weren't able to give us a solid estimate of how long it would take, another half-hour or another four hours, so the decision was made to release the students."
   Detectives have taken the threatening note into evidence. At the time this newspaper went to press, investigators had no suspects in the case.
   School at Kamiakin continued as normal the following day.