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Threat forces James Buchanan High School to close early

April 20, 2007|by DON AINES

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - A bomb threat scrawled with lipstick on a bathroom wall prompted the evacuation of James Buchanan High School Thursday morning, while a suspicious package, which turned out to be a box of paper found outside Wright Hall in the afternoon, forced the cancellation of classes at Shippensburg (Pa.) University.

Four bomb-sniffing dogs combed the building and grounds of the high school, along with Pennsylvania State Police troopers, Mercersburg police and Franklin County Sheriff's deputies, but no bomb was found, Tuscarora Superintendent Rebecca Erb said. The response to the threat would have been the same, regardless of the mass murder of 32 students Monday at Virginia Tech, she said.

"We didn't treat it differently. ... I wouldn't take chances to jeopardize the safety of students and staff," said Erb, who took over as superintendent of the Tuscarora School District about six weeks ago.

"We just figured it was somebody being stupid," senior Jason Cathell said of the threat.

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"Bomb goes off 12:15 Not a joke," read the message on a girls bathroom wall, according to Mercersburg Police Chief Larry Thomas. Spotted by a student who told school officials, it was written in red lipstick in large lettering, he said.

Erb said she was told of the threat before 10 a.m. Students remained in their classrooms until about 11:30 a.m. when they were moved, first outside and then to the gymnasium and auditorium of James Buchanan Middle School.

Students at both schools were dismissed at 1 p.m. because they run on the same bus schedule, Erb said. After-school events at both schools were canceled, she said.

"We thought we were going to be able to solve it," Erb said of the reason students were kept in class for about two hours. "Unfortunately, we didn't get to the bottom of it and we had to go through with the evacuation."

State police advised the district to evacuate the school at least half an hour before 12:15 p.m., she said.

"We have some leads we are working on," Erb said. Teachers saw students in the area of the bathroom and examples of student handwriting were being looked at, she said.

Thomas declined to reveal if any students were interviewed. The person responsible, if found, could be charged with terroristic threats, possibly as an adult, he said.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, it's a prank," but police still have to take such threats seriously, Thomas said.

"I just hope parents talk to their children and warn them about what could happen if they get involved in something like this," Thomas said.

Shippensburg University canceled classes for the remainder of Thursday due to a suspicious package that was found in front of Wright Hall, a dormitory on the southwest side of the campus. A university spokeswoman said an e-mail to students, staff and employees was sent out at 4:43 p.m.

At approximately 3:45 p.m., a member of the campus community reported to University Police that a box had been dropped off by a trash can near the front of Wright Hall, according to a university news release.

University Police immediately responded and, as part of their standard operating procedures, cordoned off the area. Police called for assistance from the Pennsylvania State Police bomb unit.

Several buildings in the vicinity of Wright Hall were evacuated as a precaution and classes were canceled. The State Police unit conducted a standard inspection and found that the box contained only paper. It was determined that the box was dropped off by a university employee to be picked up as trash, according to the release.

Classes are scheduled as normal for today.

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