- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

A bomb threat in Culpeper County, Va., forced officials yesterday to close area schools and cancel classes for thousands of students as police swept through buildings searching for an explosive device.

By late afternoon, investigators had found nothing harmful in any of the schools.

“You simply can’t be too cautious,” Culpeper County Schools Superintendent David A. Cox said yesterday morning. “The safety of our students and our employees is our No. 1 concern.”

Officials said classes will resume today.

The threat was phoned in to the county’s Emergency Operations Center at about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday. The caller did not mention a specific school, but did talk about blowing up schools, officials said.

“The individual had a lengthy conversation, and in this conversation he said he was going to blow up schools,” county Sheriff H. Lee Hart said. “We do not know which schools, or his plans. We don’t know a lot about this individual.”

Sheriff Hart would not say whether authorities have a suspect but said they are following several leads.

Classes were canceled for 7,263 students at the county’s eight public schools. Seven private schools and day care centers also closed.

The threat “didn’t identify any specific school as a target, which is the rationale between closing all schools public and private,” schools spokeswoman Marla McKenna said. “But it was definitely a bomb threat.”

Culpeper Sheriff’s officials were receiving assistance from Virginia State Police, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and other local agencies in searching the buildings and investigating the threat.

State police spokesman Sgt. F.L. Tyler said the agency provided resources including explosive-detection dogs, bomb disposal technicians and special investigative agents to assist the county sheriff’s office.

“We’re just providing assistance,” Sgt. Tyler said. “They’re handling the investigation.”

The threat in Culpeper, which is about 70 miles southwest of the District, comes after a spate of deadly school shootings across the country over the past 10 days.

On Monday, milk-truck driver Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, killed five girls and himself in a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa. Last Friday, 15-year-old Eric Hainstock fatally shot his principal at a school in Cazenovia, Wis.

On Sept. 27, Duane Morrison, 53, sexually assaulted six girls at a Colorado high school and held them as human shields for hours before fatally shooting one girl and then himself.

“The timing, what’s going on through our country, is of real concern,” Sheriff Hart said at a press conference yesterday.

Threats, weapons on campuses and rumors of violence have sparked alarm at other schools across the country. On Wednesday, six students at Pikesville High School in Baltimore County suffered minor injuries after being hit with shots from a pellet gun.

In Culpeper County, Mrs. McKenna said school officials likely would have made the decision to shut down the system even without the surge in school shootings.

“Even without all the recent episodes of school violence, we would have taken this threat seriously,” she said. “I think the same determination would have been made.”

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