Officials' handling of Cabarrus Co. high schools bomb threat concerns parents

CABARRUS COUNTY, N.C. — Law enforcement from the FBI to Concord police officers are trying to figure out who was behind Thursday’s bomb threat that forced the evacuation of thousands of students in Cabarrus County.

Students at all high schools in Cabarrus County were evacuated from campus and dismissed early on Thursday morning in response to an "anonymous threat," according to school district officials.

A bomb threat was sent in an email to Cabarrus County School Board members, according to a captain with the Cabarrus County Sheriff's Office.

He said the threat was very specific, which forced authorities and the school district to take the necessary precautions.

Detectives told Channel 9 the threat that was emailed to the district contained "detailed" information specific to high schools.

Local security expert Walter Kimble said details mean possible premeditation and can elevate the response.

"There was a large-scale decision that kept their children and faculty in the highest degree of safety,” Kimble said.

After dismissing thousands of students, investigators did sweeps of schools, but they did not find anything suspicious.

Some parents want to know why they were informed about the threat so late.

Angela Debramo. who went to Hickory Ridge High School to pick up her son’s book bag that was left behind after Thursday's evacuation and early dismissal, said she never received a phone call from the school.

“My son called me and told me what was going on,” Debramo said.

Other parents said they were notified by the school, but it came too late.

Students from all high schools were evacuated and then dismissed early out of an abundance of caution.

The dismissals began immediately, according to district officials, but early colleges are not being dismissed early.

Students at J.N. Fries Middle School were also dismissed early because the school shares a campus with the district's Performance Learning Center. District officials said that car riders could be picked up at Rocky River United Methodist Church on Old Charlotte Road Southwest.

Other middle and elementary schools in the county were not dismissed.

The bomb squad was called to Hickory Ridge High School after administrators noticed that some ceiling tiles were out of place. Nothing was found inside the school.

The Sheriff's Office said its investigators went to all other high schools and checked to make sure there were no threats.

Concord police sent an "all clear" to Cabarrus County high school facilities just after 1 p.m. Thursday.

List of Cabarrus County schools that dismissed early:

  • Central Cabarrus High
  • Concord High
  • Cox Mill High
  • Hickory Ridge High
  • Jay M Robinson High
  • Mount Pleasant High
  • Northwest Cabarrus High
  • J.N. Fries Middle School

Keisha Sandidge said she had to call the district for answers after her son's friend told her about the evacuation.

"They told them something was going on at the school, but they weren't at liberty to say,” Sandidge said.

A district spokesperson told Channel 9 that district officials called and emailed parents about the bomb threat and dismissal around 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, about an hour after the initial evacuation.

Officials said that communicating with parents during an evacuation could cause “panic and lead to parents coming to the school to pick up their children.”

"I don't think communication was as good as it could have been,” Sandidge said.

A student at Northwest Cabarrus High School said students at the high school were forced to leave class and then were told it was a lockdown drill.

“But then we were down there for about an hour and we knew something was up,” Jackson Williford said.

Jill Joyner, mother of a middle and elementary school students, said she has trouble understanding how the middle and elementary schools, being so close to Northwest High, were not close enough to evacuate.

Officials told Channel 9 they decided which schools to dismiss after talking with law enforcement.

One parent showed Channel 9 an email from district officials she said she received within minutes of the threat.

Others said they waited hours as students were scattered throughout the bleachers or stood in bunches just outside their high school.

"I received a phone call saying that the middle and elementary (schools) were staying because that was the safest,” Joyner said.

Rhonda McClellan, who has a daughter in the middle school, shares the same concerns.

"The middle school is right next to the high school so wouldn’t you think you would want children out of the middle school too? ” McClellan asked.

School officials didn't explain how the trouble could pose a threat to students at the high school and not at the other two schools within a block away.

"I mean if a bomb would have gone off, would that have affected the middle school also, don’t you think?" McClellan asked.

Chopper 9 Skyzoom flew over Cox Mill High School and could see students who had been evacuated standing along the track and sitting in the bleachers by the football field.

School district officials said they were working closely with law enforcement agencies and their priority was to ensure the safety of students and staff.

“We are very glad that Cabarrus County has strong local relationships within the government system,” Sheriff Brad Riley stated. “Today’s threat response was indicative of how swiftly our agencies and partners can come together to ensure our public is as safe as we can make it.”

All the parents who talked with Channel 9 said they were happy the school chose to dismiss students.

Kimble said that dismissing the students may have been the best decision.

"Given the information they had, they did not take this lightly,” Kimble said.

Anyone with information concerning the bomb threat is asked to call Cabarrus County Sheriff's Office at 704-920-3000 or Crime Stoppers at 704-932-7463.

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