Two schools receive bomb threats

  • With gates closed and law enforcement standing watch, Barnwell High School students walk to the track field after a bomb threat was made on Sept. 21.
  • Rachel Wall, Barnwell District 45’s curriculum director, and Superintendent Crissie Stapleton walk to the back entrance of Barnwell High School just minutes after the school was evacuated for a bomb threat.
  • Firefighters from the City of Barnwell responded to Barnwell High School after a bomb threat was called in.

Investigations are underway after bomb threats were made against two area high schools around the same time Thursday afternoon.

Barnwell High School received a bomb threat on Sept. 21 at 12:25 p.m. While Barnwell County Sheriff Ed Carroll would not say exactly where the call was received, he said it was not called into the school or the 911 dispatch center. Around the same time, a bomb threat was called into the Allendale-Fairfax High School office, according to Allendale County Sheriff Tom Carter.

Students and employees at both schools were immediately evacuated as law enforcement agencies were contacted, according to school officials.

The bomb-sniffing dog team from Aiken County responded to conduct a search of Barnwell High while dogs from the State Law Enforcement Division and Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office conducted the search in Allendale.

Both schools were eventually cleared and no devices were located, according to the two sheriffs.

Due to the heat and length of time it would take to search the school, officials in Allendale decided around 1:30 p.m. to dismiss students. Parents were notified of this decision through the school’s phone call blast system, said Allendale County Schools Superintendent Dr. Walter Tobin, who was at the school at the time of the threat for a monthly meeting with principals.

However, that was not the case in Barnwell because students returned to classes around 2:15 p.m. after law enforcement deemed the buildings were safe. “BHS resumed a normal schedule and we are thankful for all emergency responders, faculty, staff, parents, and of course, our wonderful students for being so cooperative under these circumstances,” stated a release on the school’s website.

While some parents understood the school’s position, not everyone was happy. Some also expressed dismay at finding out about the situation through phone calls from their students, social media posts or simply witnessing all the emergency response vehicles as they drove by, instead of directly hearing from the school.

“Barnwell High needs an emergency notification system,” said parent Shannon Still, who was one of several parents who waited outside the school’s locked gates hoping to take their children home early.

Investigator Darlene Cook with the Barnwell County Sheriff’s Office has a different viewpoint. “If all parents were notified, many would come running and cause more chaos. Parents have to trust schools and law enforcement to do their jobs knowing the safety of the student is the first priority,” she wrote in a Facebook comment on The People-Sentinel’s page.

Officials from both schools said their emergency protocol was followed to ensure the safety of all students and staff; however, there are things to improve after lessons they learned from these threats.

No arrests have been made in either bomb threat case, but law enforcement agencies are following all leads.

“It is very much an active investigation,” said Carroll.

When asked if the two incidents could be related, Sheriff Carter said they are looking into that possibility, especially since the two threats were called in around the same time.

Both sheriffs commend all agencies that responded, including emergency management, firefighters, law enforcement, EMS and school officials.