- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2004

A threat of bombs at five schools in the District yesterday prompted a search of the city’s 262 public and private schools, an alert at colleges and universities, and an investigation by city and federal authorities.

D.C. police received the telephone threat just before 6 a.m. Using technology for deaf persons, the caller typed a message that was transmitted to an operator, who relayed the message to police.

No evacuations were ordered because of the threat, which later was determined to have been a hoax.

We get a lot of bomb threats in the schools and about other buildings,” said Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, defending the decision to not encourage the evacuation of schools or alert parents of the threat as students were dropped off yesterday morning.

“We don’t want to be in the position of shutting down our school system or our city because one person sends an e-mail or drops a quarter on a call,” Mrs. Kellems said

The message said bombs had been placed at five schools and would detonate by noon. It did not specify which schools or the type of bombs. Police took the threat seriously, they said.

“You can’t say [it’s a] prank anymore. Everything has changed since 9/11. We take everything serious. We investigate. We check,” said D.C. police Cmdr. Winston Robinson, assistant chief of regional operations east.

Police dispatched officers to search each public school, private school and university in the city, a spokesman said. Universities went on heightened alert and increased patrols by their own security officers, who searched buildings and parking garages. Universities also asked students, faculty and staff to report suspicious packages. Police found nothing.

Police had no suspects yesterday, but offered a $1,000 reward for tips that lead to an arrest in the case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said such a threat is a federal crime punishable with up to 10 years in prison. The charge is that of “willfully making a threat or conveying false information.”

Spokesmen for the FBI and the Secret Service said those agencies will help police investigate the origin of the call. The FBI has assigned a Cyber Crimes squad, and the Secret Service has assigned an Electronic Crimes Task Force.

“We are working to find out who did this,” Mayor Anthony A. Williams said. “There is a horrible cost — not just in dollars and cents but in the anxiety of parents.”

Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams, said the response by schools and law enforcement was done mostly right. But he added that D.C. schools should have released information through the media to let parents know what was happening earlier instead of waiting until 11 a.m.

Once noon had passed, public schools were ordered back to regular status, a school official at Murch Elementary in Northwest said.

District schools went to a Level 1, or low, alert level. They did not evacuate students, but said parents could come and pick up their children. However, some schools were locked down so that no one could go in or come out.

At Brown Junior High School in Northeast, parents who came to pick up their children found the school doors locked and school officials unresponsive. A security guard poked her head out a window to tell parents that the school was in “lock-down.”

One man cursed and kicked the door, demanding that someone inside speak to him about his eighth-grade daughter.

“Let me talk to somebody,” he shouted. When he heard no answer, he sneaked in through a side entrance and somehow avoided security. Other parents who tried to follow him were directed back outside by a guard.

One block away at Spingarn High School, the front doors were unlocked. Concerned parents were able to enter, speak to Special Police Officer A. Sampson in the hall, then leave with their children.

“We’re not holding anybody,” Ms. Sampson said. About seven parents had come to pick up their kids by noon without difficulty, she said.

Tarron Lively and Matthew Cella contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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