Students were ordered to evacuate all nine schools in Barbour County Friday after school officials discovered a handwritten bomb threat at one of the system's elementary schools.
Assistant Superintendent of Barbour County Schools Jeff Kittle said the handwritten letter was discovered shortly before 1 p.m., but would not disclose any details about where the letter was found or what it said.
However, emergency scanner traffic indicated that the note said a bomb was set to go off at 2 p.m.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Melissa Toothman
A parent and friend speak to a police officer on the campus of Philip Barbour High School Friday after hearing a bomb threat was discovered at a county school. The parent said she was told no one could enter the building.
"I don't want to release too much information and jeopardize the investigation," Kittle told The Inter-Mountain late Friday afternoon. "For as much of a challenge as this has been for us and for the amount of worry it's put on parents, I want (the police) to have every opportunity to catch them (the parties responsible)."
As of 4 p.m., seven of the nine schools in Barbour County had been searched with K-9 units, Kittle said, and no bombs had been found. He said at that time officers were en route to search the final two elementary schools.
The coast appeared to be clear by 4:30 p.m. According to emergency scanner traffic at 4:28 p.m., an emergency responder said, "We're clearing all the schools. The threat has passed."
When school officials learned about the bomb threat, students were evacuated to several evacuation sites, depending on where they attended school, a Barbour County Board of Education employee told The Inter-Mountain via telephone.
Kittle -who was at the helm of evacuation operations due to county Superintendent Dr. Joseph Super being out of town- said the nature of the threat posed a formidable challenge.
"It's unusual to get a county wide threat," Kittle said, "so we've been scrambling to make arrangements for the kids to keep them safe and contact the parents." Approximately 2,400 students attend school in Barbour County, Kittle said.
Scanner traffic indicated that Philip Barbour High School released the students at 3 p.m., the regular time, from their respective evacuation sites.
An Inter-Mountain reporter on scene observed a school bus transporting children away from Philippi Middle School Friday afternoon, and a slew of law enforcement vehicles at the middle and high schoosl, including several sheriff's department vehicles parked in front of the high school.
Genia Delauder, the mother of a 10th-grader who attends Philip Barbour High, told the Inter-Mountain that her son had texted her at 1:30 p.m. to inform her of the countywide bomb threat. Delauder said she had not been contacted by Barbour County School officials.
Kittle said Barbour County's safety plan had to be altered to deal with the breadth of the threat.
"We have a very good plan in place, although with this (incident) we had to make some impromptu changes due to the overwhelming scope of the threat," Kittle said. "Things went extremely smoothly except for a few bumps in the road." Those "bumps," Kittle said, amounted to "just some issues with communication and transportation that we need to get cleaned up."
"I'm disappointed that somebody would do something of this nature especially in light of recent events nationally," the assistant superintendent remarked. "But I'm awful proud of all of our personnel for doing a tremendous job of keeping our kids safe."
Tucker County Schools Superintendent Dr. Eddie Campbell said Friday that a bomb threat plan is in place for Tucker County schools, and that a similar plan had been developed for Barbour County. Both plans were mapped out in conjunction with RESA-7, a state-wide agency that helps develop educational programs.
Campbell said the procedure for Tucker County, should a threat arise, begins with evacuating students and staff from affected schools.
There is a 300-foot minimum radius for evacuating a building, he said, and safe zones are established at each school in Tucker County.
Campbell said off-school evacuation sites are in place. Parking lots and doorways are supposed to be cleared for immediate emergency crew access as well. He noted that every member of the Tucker school administration is trained to answer phone calls, respond to the public and initiate bomb threat procedures.
"The key to this is preparation," Campbell said.
Staff writers Melissa Toothman and Casey Houser contributed to this report.