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Threat investigations divert resources, disrupt schools

Of the six threats made to Carroll County Public Schools this academic year — including two this past week — none were found to be credible and only one has resulted in criminal charges.

In most of the incidents, schools had to be evacuated and scanned by K-9 teams before operations were allowed to resume.

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"We go long periods of time where we don't have those distractions," said Jon O'Neal, assistant superintendent of administration.

O'Neal said threats come in "flurries."

Most recently, West Middle School was evacuated Wednesday after a note containing a bomb threat was found. Thursday, nearby Westminster High School was also evacuated because of a threatening note.

The student who wrote the note found at West Middle School was identified but is not facing criminal or juvenile charges, according to a news release from the Carroll County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Jim DeWees said his office consulted with the State's Attorney's Office and determined charges were not appropriate in the case.

"There were issues with the juvenile [such that] we opted not to charge," he said.

O'Neal said criminal charges are left to law enforcement and the State's Attorney's Office. The school has the option of disciplining the student internally based on documented policies and procedures that take into consideration the severity of the incident and the student's history.

"Appropriate disciplinary action was taken to address the issue," said Carroll County Public Schools spokeswoman Carey Gaddis.

DeWees said investigators have active leads in the Westminster High School threat case but are not sure if an arrest will be made.

Century High School was evacuated Dec. 2 after a threat was discovered written on a mirror in a girls' bathroom. Winters Mill High School was evacuated Jan. 28 after a threat was phoned in.

Neither threat was found to be credible and no charges were filed. DeWees said the investigations are still open and forensic evidence is awaiting examination.

On Feb. 24 and 25, two separate threats written in a boys' bathroom lead to the evacuation of Liberty High School.

Bryce Perri Washington, an 18-year-old student, was arrested and charged with willful disturbance of school activities and threatening students or school personnel, according to court records.

Friday, Chief Deputy State's Attorney Kathleen Murphy said her office is considering additional charges against Washington.

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Also on Feb. 25, sheriff's deputies responded to Freedom Elementary School after a student saw what appeared to be a bomb threat etched into something but it was determined the words had been there for some time and no evacuation was ordered.

DeLeonardo said his office takes the threats seriously, but must determine the most appropriate charges — if any — to file, based on the age of the perpetrator and the specific circumstances.

Though threats are almost always found to be hoaxes, DeWees said they divert a lot of resources and pull deputies from their normal duties.

Once a threat is communicated, protocols go into place immediately at the school, O'Neal said. Depending on the nature of the threat, students may be asked to evacuate and leave their belongings behind or shelter in place in a lockdown.

On March 20, 2014, South Carroll High School was locked down for five hours after someone called in a threat of "shooting" and "chaos," according to court records. O'Neal said that was an example of a situation where locking down the school was determined to be the safest course of action.

No danger was found and Timothy Edgar Baker, 21, of Mount Airy, is awaiting trial for arson threat, telephone misuse and related charges, according to court records.

Once police arrive, O'Neal said, it's their investigation. They work with the school to determine what information should be shared with parents and the public.

"Sometimes people think [the notifications] are helpful," O'Neal said. "Sometimes people think they should have a little more information."

DeWees said he understands that parents are frustrated when they want more information or when students are kept outside in the cold, but his office is treating every threat as viable until proven otherwise and safety is the top priority.

"Ensuring safety is not always convenient," DeLeonardo added.

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