Police on standby after bomb scare, ‘threats’

Published 9:36 am Monday, September 14, 2015

In the wake of a bomb scare at a city shopping center Thursday and amid rumors circulating on social media regarding threats of violence at schools, officials with both the city and county school systems took extra precautions to assure parents and students Friday.
Around 6:20 p.m. Thursday, a man at the West Towne Square shopping center on Hudson Drive returned to his truck to find a suspicious package. He called 911 to report it, and police, firefighters, emergency medical personnel and technicians with the Johnson City Police Department’s Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit responded to the scene.
After a safety detonation was performed, investigators determined the package did not appear to contain any explosive materials and probably a hoax, Elizabethton Police Department Capt. Joy Shoun said.
After the scene was cleared at the shopping center, police and emergency responders conducted a sweep of nearby Elizabethton High School.
“Because of the close proximity to the school, we decided to do a full search while we had the resources,” EPD Chief Greg Workman said. Nothing was found during the search of the school.
When students arrived at Elizabethton High School Friday, however, they were greeted by additional police officers on standby.
“We had extra presence there this morning because of the events last night,” Workman said.
Elizabethton Director of Schools Dr. Corey Gardenhour was appreciative of the extra officers Friday morning.
In addition to the concern over the incident Thursday evening, Gardenhour said many were worried because stories had circulated through social media about planned acts of violence in schools on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Gardenhour said he had not seen any of the threats posted through social media but that he had heard about them. Media outlets across the country reported on the Internet threats — which did not list a specific school or town — and what school systems were doing in response.
“We want to make sure our students feel safe,” he said, adding he was at the school for the first hour of the day to ensure things were running smoothly and to field calls and questions from students and parents. “We are just trying to make sure everyone feels comfortable.
During the day Friday, rumors began to circulate through the community that various schools had been locked down or evacuated. Gardenhour and Workman said no city school was evacuated or placed on lockdown.
In the county, one incident did trigger a response.
Unaka High School was placed on what school officials called a “soft lockdown” after a student reportedly brought fireworks to the school. The items later were determined not to be suspicious or dangerous to the school or its students.
“The soft lockdown at Unaka was the only issue we had,” said Carter County Director of Schools Dr. Kevin Ward. “We’ve not really had any issues today.”
Ward had also heard of the nonspecific threats of violence circulating on social media and said he also heard there may have been specific threats made toward a school in a neighboring county, but he had not been able to confirm that. No threats had been made against schools in Carter County to his knowledge, he said.
But acting with an “abundance of caution,” Ward said due to the threats being circulated on social media and the hoax device which was found on Thursday, he met with the school system’s Safety Coordinator Mickey Taylor and Secondary School Supervisor Danny McClain to review safety plans early Friday morning.
Security at the county schools is pretty tight, Ward said, pointing to the security fencing around campuses, the door buzzer system which allows school officials to see visitors before allowing them in and the presence of the Carter County Sheriff’s Department School Resource Officers in the schools.
Despite security measures at the schools, Ward said there were some families who took their own approach to the threats.
“There has been some parents, not a lot but some, that chose not to send their child to school today,” Ward said on Friday. “I say that because our absentee numbers are up a bit today.”

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