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Pickerington responds to bomb threats
A timeline of the recent events at Pickerington Central:
Jan. 27 - A girl placed a bomb threat from a pay phone. The students evacuated to the field house and gym. No bomb was found and the students returned to class.
Principal Scott Reeves said the caller may be one of a "pocket of angry young women."
Feb. 6 - A threat written on the wall of a girl's restroom indicated a bomb would explode within 20 minutes. The students evacuated the building. No bomb was found and the students returned to class.
Reeves also attributed this incident to the angry girls.
Feb. 16 - Vandals sprayed purple paint along the main building, four external buildings, a portable classroom and three storage sheds.
After painting two school vans, the vandals ignited a box of flares they found inside. The fire spread from one van to the other. The flames caught the attention of a passerby who called the police.
Christopher D. Hoar, 18, a former Central student, has been arrested in connection with this case. Bond has been set at $75,000. The charges include four counts of breaking and entering, two counts possession of criminal tools, one count vandalism and one count arson.
Police also plan to charge a current student with arson in this case.
Feb. 18 - School officials find another bomb threat written on the wall of a girls' restroom and again no bomb was found. Reeves also contributed this incident to the angry girls.
Feb. 19 - A note is found threatening four band students whom Reeves describes as the "cream of the crop - senior leaders, national honor society members - the very best representatives of Pickerington Central High School."
The note listed the time when each student would die, then "almost like an afterthought" mentioned a bomb, Reeves said.
The threatened students were sent home. Their classmates remained in classroom lockdown for the duration of the times listed in the note. No bomb was found.
"We wanted to clear the hallway in case anyone was looking for these (four) kids," Reeves said.
A death threat was painted on the home of one of the four students. Police later found the paint can in his home.
Charges may be filed soon, Pickerington Police Commander Steve Annetts said.
Feb. 19 - At 11 p.m., students receive text messages warning them that the next day during first period a girl would begin a shooting rampage ending with an explosion.
Friday morning, half of the students remained at home while the other half had their belongings searched and their water bottles confiscated. Parents retrieved their children throughout the day. No bomb was found.
The police department received 17 calls from families who received the text message, but they know many more students received the text and did not report it, Annetts said.
With so many people forwarding the message, a trace cannot be completed.
"We have no idea where it started," Annetts said.
Feb. 20 - A student at Ridgeview Junior High wrote a copycat threat that warned a bomb would explode and anyone who left the building would be shot.
A student quickly confessed to police.
After nearly two weeks of fear and chaos, Pickerington Central officials say the school has returned to normal.
"Knock on wood," Principal Scott Reeves said.
Reeves, along with superintendent Dr. Karen Mantia, addressed the hundreds of community members who filled the school's auditorium Feb. 24 demanding to know if their children were safe.
Since the end of January, Central has experienced vandalism, arson and five bomb threats - two of which included shooting threats.
"Each and every instance we found nothing," Reeves said. "We have worked very closely and very cooperatively with Pickerington Police and the Violet Township Fire Department who have been instrumental in making sure our kids are safe."
At the meeting several parents asked why school was not cancelled Feb. 20 after several students received a text message threatening a Columbine-style attack that would occur during first period, followed by an explosion.
Of the nearly 1,600 students, half did not go to school that day. The other half stood outside in the cold as police searched their bags and coat pockets, then confiscated any liquids they carried, Reeves said.
The school excused all absences and allowed parents to pick up their children. By the end of the school day only 25 percent of the students remained.
"I was disappointed school was not cancelled for Friday," parent James Smith said. "I am outraged that extra credit was given to the kids who did go."
"Extra credit - is that worth a life?" shouted a voice in the crowd.
Mantia said the district would communicate better with parents in the event of another threat, but she defended her decision not to cancel class.
"These are not easy calls," Mantia said. "If we continue to cancel, then we're never going to have school. I, too, am a parent and I understand how frightened you were."
Reeves said the school enacted the following new measures to increase safety:
• Nine new cameras now cover side hallways, including the ones leading to bathrooms (two of the bomb threats were written on girls' restroom walls).
• The district hired substitute teachers to roam the halls as monitors.
• Hall passes will be issued for emergencies only, and monitors will escort the students to their destinations.
• Teachers will supervise the restrooms during period breaks.
• A mentoring program will be reinstated for troubled girls.
Reeves said a "pocket of angry young women" is believed responsible for the first three bomb threats.
The district does "not want to move to metal detectors and pat downs," Mantia said.
Reeves urged parents not to text message their children during the lock-downs. The students miss important instructions due to texting, officials said.
The police have suspects for most of the incidents, Pickerington police commander Steve Annetts told the crowd.
Three students have been removed from class for their actions, Reeves said.
"We will deal with each as severely as we can by law," Reeves said.
Per the Ohio Revised Code, the maximum amount of days that a principal may suspend a student is 10, however the principal may recommend expulsion to the superintendent. An expulsion may last 80 days or an entire school year.
"In no uncertain terms, we will take the punishment to the very maximum," Mantia said.
The perpetrator of a copycat threat found Feb. 20 at Ridgeview Junior High also will face expulsion, school officials said.
As of press time, criminal charges had only been filed in one incident.
Police linked former student Christopher D. Hoar, 18, to the vandalism on Feb. 16.
He currently sits in Fairfield County jail, charged with four counts of breaking and entering, two counts of possession of criminal tools, one count of vandalism and one count of arson.
Bond has been set at $75,000.
Hoar's name was "familiar" to Pickerington police, Annetts said.
A current Central student also may be charged with arson in the case, Annetts said.
Students have been helpful in finding the culprits.
"There is nothing that happens in high school that they don't talk about," Reeves said. "When they do something like this - it's too juicy to keep to themselves."
Safety improvements including additional cameras have been slated for both Central and Ridgeview. The district plans to fund the upgrades with a portion of the $50 million the state has promised the schools.
The state will not pay the $50 million until the district can prove it will maintain the buildings for 23 years.
The district currently has a maintenance levy, but it falls 10 years short.
If voters in May agree to extend that 0.5 mill levy, the district will receive the $50 million.
The levy equates to no new taxes. It currently costs the owner of a $100,000 home $11 per year.
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