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.

Investigations are underway after bomb threats were made against two area high schools on Thursday, Sept. 21.

Barnwell High School received a bomb threat 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 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 responded to 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. 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 expressed dismay at finding out about the situation through phone calls from their students, social media posts or simply witnessing the emergency response vehicles as they drove by, instead of directly hearing from the school. A number of parents waited outside the school’s locked gates hoping to take their children home early.

A message was sent out through the school’s text messaging system around 3:45 p.m. to inform parents of the earlier threat.

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.

On Friday, Sept. 22, AFHS received another threat around 12:30 p.m. stating a bomb would go off in 15 minutes in the boys’ restroom. The school was evacuated, but the superintendent made the call to return to class after 30 minutes, said Sheriff Carter.

No arrests have been made in the three cases, but law enforcement agencies are following leads. Sheriff Carter said they traced Thursday’s bomb threat to a landline at a church, but the number was likely “spoofed”. It’s unclear if the Barnwell call has been traced as messages to Sheriff Carroll were unreturned as of press time and a report was not available.

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.

Anyone with information about these threats should call the Allendale Co. Sheriff’s Office at (803) 584-7067 ot Barnwell Co. Sheriff’s Office at (803) 541-1052.