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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

5 Area Schools Receive Bomb Threat Letters

March 30, 2000|MATT SURMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THOUSAND OAKS — Students from five local schools were sent home Wednesday with letters warning that their campuses were included in a list of bomb threat targets.

Sheriff's Department and Conejo Valley School District officials said they have no plans to cancel classes today and that they are taking every precaution to ensure students' safety.

"We are making sure the school sites are safe," Senior Deputy Ed Tumbleson said Wednesday afternoon. "We're being very proactive, and we're not taking this lightly."

Five campuses--Ladera, Lang Ranch, Meadows and Weathersfield elementary schools and Los Cerritos Middle School--received typed letters Wednesday warning that a bomb would go off sometime today.

The letter was received first in the regular U.S. mail delivery at Ladera about 11 a.m., after which officials called the school district. Other schools were asked to keep a watch for similar letters, leave them sealed, and call the district office immediately.

The five schools are all in the same general area.

"We're trying to stay as normal as possible," said Carol Philips, principal of Weathersfield Elementary, which received the letter Wednesday afternoon. "We called the parents of [morning kindergarten students] today. We sent home letters. We didn't have time to do much else."

The Sheriff's Department stationed a deputy at each site and conducted sweeps with a dog trained to find bombs. The school district also hired private security guards to patrol overnight.

Also, each teacher was asked to conduct a formal check of his or her classroom. As of 6 p.m., police had no suspects.

Despite the quick response, police said the measures are primarily a safeguard.

"Bomb threats at campuses are kind of a common thing," Tumbleson said. "In nine years as a police officer, I've had three or four. Typically, we don't evacuate."

Even so, many parents are worried about the threats. The Sheriff's Department and school district each had received dozens of calls from concerned parents by Wednesday evening. And school officials and authorities expect a significant number of students to stay home today.

After a spate of bomb threats across the county last May in response to the Columbine High shootings, daily enrollment dropped dramatically at some schools.

"I hope we don't suffer a lot of enrollment loss," Supt. Jerry Gross said. "But safety comes first."

Philips said some of her school's parents were planning to attend with their children.

Gary Sheppard, whose son is a fifth-grader at Lang Ranch, is one of those who plans to keep his child out of school.

"I hate to acknowledge threats like that, but you have to take it seriously," he said. "What's interesting is that it's coming at the elementary school level."

One mother said she would very likely send her daughter to Weathersfield Elementary the next day, but with deep reservations.

"Maybe I was an oblivious child, growing up back in the '60s, but I didn't notice any bad things like this happening," she said. "It makes me take a real pause."

At Lang Ranch Elementary, some students and parents were warned of the threat during a third-grade awards assembly presided over by Principal Bradley Baker.

"At the end I read the letter, and there were only three questions," he said. "They appreciate that they've been informed. And I don't think that we have any doubts about the Police Department."

Baker said an assembly planned for today, including visits by a python and a hawk, will go on as planned despite the threat.

"I think it's sad that people do these kinds of things for attention," he said. "It's a weird world we live in, but we have to keep living in it."

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