Police respond to reports of explosive in student backpack during lunch

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Police located the backpack and worked with the Fire Marshal’s office to determine that the threat was “non-credible,” according to Dodd.

By Harper Barnowski

Montgomery County Police and the Montgomery County Fire Marshal’s Office responded to reports of a student in “possession of an explosive device” in the new building during lunch yesterday, Principal Robert Dodd wrote in an email to parents on Tuesday afternoon.

After students told administrators that another student’s backpack may have contained an explosive device, police located the backpack and worked with the Fire Marshal’s office to determine that the threat was “non-credible,” according to Dodd.

One sophomore said that they were walking to their 7th period class near the front entrance of the new building when they heard security guards tell students to exit the hallway and enter their classrooms. The Black & White has independently verified that security team members instructed students to clear the halls.

“I was confused,” the sophomore said. “It didn’t seem like a big deal, and I didn’t realize what was going on.”

In an email to The Black & White, Dodd wrote that police and the Fire Marshal’s Office rely on emergency protocols that they follow to assess “situations like today.” He said that when administrators called police, they didn’t know if the student was truly in possession of an explosive device. 

“At that point, it was a rumor,” Dodd said in an interview. “The police arrived so quickly that there was no need to evacuate.”

According to School Emergency Plan procedures from MCPS’ Department of Systemwide Safety and Emergency Management, school officials must to respond to a bomb threat by conducting a bomb threat assessment to determine the appropriate response. If administrators determine an evacuation, the school district’s protocol requires students and staff move at least 300 feet away from the building and avoid concentrating in one central location.

Junior Samantha Villavicencio said that the threat made her feel less safe at school, especially in the weeks following threats to the Jewish community that prompted an increased police presence around schools. Villavicencio believes the response to the threat was insufficient, she said, because administrators never evacuated the building or notified students of the threat.

“This shows that the school safety system is not working,” Villavicencio said. “ If there actually was an [explosive device], clearing one hallway is not enough to do anything about that.”

Junior Kathleen Hartung was scared when she heard about the possibility of a student bringing an explosive device to school. She said that the lack of emergency response procedures or notifications to students during the investigation was concerning.

“Just moving between classes seems incredibly unsafe,” Hartung said. “It’s terrifying that there would even be a threat like this.”