Bomb threat sparks high security at Keaau school


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Hawaii County police are investigating a handwritten bomb threat found earlier this month in a Keaau High School restroom.

“It said, ‘There’s going to be a bomb at KHS 2/15/13. Hint: It’ll be in a locker,’” Principal Dean Cevallos told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday.

In a letter sent home with students on Friday, Cevallos explained to parents that the school has taken on additional safety and security measures as a result of the threat.

In a phone interview Tuesday, he said that the new measures will become permanent fixtures in the school’s ongoing policies.

“As you go forth, certain things get put into your stepping stones,” Cevallos said. “This is one we have to say is in our face. We cannot lighten up. Now we’ve been threatened, so we’re going to be doing things differently.”

As of Thursday, he said, no bags or backpacks are to be left unattended on campus.

“Any unsecured bag found on the campus will be subject to search,” he wrote in the letter. “Please reiterate to your child the importance of keeping their belongings on them at all times or secured in an assigned school locker.”

The school will conduct random searches of lockers, he said.

“We have lockers all over … in every building … so to believe we could go through every single one of them on one day would be incredible, but we do plan to go through them,” he said.

Cevallos also said that the school would make available counselors to any student who would like to talk to someone about the bomb threat.

In light of the violence visited upon a number of schools across the country, he said that all threats must be taken seriously, including this one, despite the strange way in which it was found.

The penciled message was written on the top of the toilet paper dispenser inside a student restroom, and was found by a custodian, he said.

School administrators plan to keep the school open for business on Feb. 15, and it will be up to parents to decide for themselves whether to send their kids.

“We are doing our best to be proactive. The school will be open, and we’re doing everything we can to provide a safe environment. We’re looking for bags where they shouldn’t be, and we’re going to periodically check lockers throughout that week,” he said.

The note was reported to police on Jan. 8, a Police Department spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.

“Hawaii County police were notified of the bomb threat, and are currently working with our school. School officials have opened an investigation into the matter,” Cevallos wrote in his letter to parents. “All threats to our school or students are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.”

Cevallos explained that the 10-day lag between when the message was found and when parents were notified was due to the school’s investigation. He said that officials were searching to find who may have left the threat, and whether it was credible, before alerting parents.

“Since we didn’t find anything pertinent to say, ‘This is just a hoax,’ we decided to alert parents,” he said.

He added that students have in general been very accepting of the new security measures.

“Most of them seem to understand that they’ve got to help,” he said. “This is just a situation that involves your safety and my safety. … We haven’t had anybody say that this is ridiculous to do.”

Cevallos said that any students who fail to keep their bags with them will first receive a warning, and if they become habitual violators, could be subject to in-school suspension and other measures as dictated by school code.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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