Campus bomb threat sparks timely preparation

On the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 21, the Carmel Unified School District sent an email to the community “of specific concern to parents, students and staff of Carmel High School,” regarding an online bomb or shooting threat that named CHS.

According to Principal Rick Lopez, the parent of a CHS student saw the threat on Ogle, an anonymous picture and message-sharing application, and reported it to the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department contacted CUSD to inform us of the threat and inquire as to how we wanted to proceed.

The CHS incident has sparked conversation about our response to threats in comparison to other schools.

The district-wide email explained that Lopez, Chief Student Services Officer Heath Rocha and Chief Human Resources Officer and Interim Superintendent Karen Hendricks met with the Sheriff’s Department and decided to sweep the campus, keep two security officers patrolling campus throughout the night and have Sheriff’s Deputies present at school the next morning, which was the Monday after February break.

In the following days, the district sent out three additional emails reiterating the incident and finally declaring it resolved. Chief Technology Officer Paul Behan reports that investigators deemed the bomb threat not credible.

“They attributed the social media post to an on-going historical rivalry between Pacific Grove High School and Carmel High School,” Behan said in the final email regarding the incident.

As Lopez points out, “[The threat] was a conversation of students on a social network platform, so it was a little unusual to begin with, but we took a whole lot of caution, to make sure we had an abundance of caution. We are always prepared for an emergency situation, so I think we would have been prepared for a threat that was more credible.”

Despite the anonymity of the Ogle website, Lopez reports that administration has a “fairly clear” idea of who posted the threat, but can’t be 100 percent sure.

This was not the first bomb threat sent to a Monterey County school. In February of 2015, North Monterey County High School responded to a specific shooting threat by evacuating campus and closing school the following day, local news outlet KSBW reports.

In 2005, on our own campus, a CHS freshman was discovered with a gun in his backpack. English teacher Mike Palshaw recalls that, even though the administration at that time determined the boy had no intention of using the gun, he was expelled nonetheless.

As it turns out, CHS’ procedure in the face of a threat is similar to that of many other schools.

CHS assistant principal Tom Parry describes his experience with bomb threats at his prior place of employment, Fresno Unified School District, after a written bomb threat specifying a date was found on campus.

“We brought a canine unit in, like we did [at CHS], and it alerted an area [of a potential bomb],” Parry explains. “We brought all the students on the other side of the campus. It ended up being bogus, but because of the alert it was like a lockdown situation.”

Carmel High’s recently hired assistant principal Craig Tuana shares a sentiment similar to Parry’s, explaining that his prior place of employment, Lynbrook High School, “would have handled a threat the same way that it was handled at CHS.”

The CHS bomb threat tested the school’s readiness for what has appeared so often in national news headlines. The threat shows that CUSD may not be immune to threats of violence, but it is prepared with protocol matching that of other districts and maintaining a policy of prioritizing the safety of students above all else.

-Anna Gumberg