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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Rash of Threats Hits Area Schools

April 29, 1999|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sheriff's officials issued a stern warning Wednesday that pranksters calling in phony bomb and gun scares to county schools face arrest and probably felony criminal prosecution.

The warning came as a wave of bomb scares and hints of other violent acts hit seven Ventura County school campuses, leading to the arrest of one juvenile at Fillmore High School and causing the evacuation of Moorpark High School.

"People, especially kids, need to know that if they make a threat, we're going to find out who did it," said Chief Deputy Bruce McDowell. "All of these are serious crimes. Clearly the school will take some sort of action, but they are also risking incarceration and prosecution."

Most of the threats received by schools Wednesday were phoned in, and all were determined to be hoaxes, authorities said. Authorities are investigating each incident and are trying to determine if any of them are related.

The incidents began at Moorpark High School about 10:45 a.m. with a call to the main office.

"It sounded like an electronic message," said Principal Max Friedman. "They said, 'There's a bomb at Moorpark High School and if you don't find it by 2 p.m., it will go off.' "

Police evacuated students from the campus about 1:30 p.m. and ordered them to an athletic field away from classrooms. Authorities found no bombs and students were released about 2 p.m., authorities said.

In the Fillmore incident, a former student, who was not identified because he is a juvenile and whose age was not available, passed a teacher on campus about 1:30 p.m. and said, "By the way, there is a bomb on campus," said Sheriff's Sgt. Larry Meyers. Police later arrested the student for making a false bomb threat, Meyers said.

Authorities and school officials say the increase in phony bomb threats is clearly prompted by the tragedy at Columbine High School.

"There's no doubt about it," said Sheriff's Cmdr. Kathy Kemp. "Kids think it's an interesting prank. And we can't separate it from the real thing until we investigate it. It's a real drain on resources."

After each prank, dozens of frantic parents called demanding to know what happened and if their child is safe. As a result, authorities in Thousand Oaks set up a hotline for parents: 371-8362. Moorpark officials also started a 24-hour hotline: 531-6438.

In addition, authorities are beefing up police presence on several campuses, including schools in Simi Valley, Moorpark and Thousand Oaks. Authorities are increasing the number of hours and days part-time officers spend on campus.

"We want to make sure that our site administrators have the advantage of every possible resource that they need right here at their fingertips to react to whatever it is that might happen," said Kathryn Scroggin, a Simi Valley schools official.

Among the other campuses hit with hoaxes Wednesday were Oxnard and Hueneme High School, where calls came in to police just after noon warning that a student at both schools was carrying a loaded gun. About 1:30 p.m., faculty at Moorpark Community College found a tape recorder with a note on top in the library warning the machine would ignite if played. And at Redwood Intermediate School, a student said a bomb was in a campus locker.

In each case, the threat was unfounded.

Times Community News reporter Milo Peinemann contributed to this story.

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