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Bomb threats handled seriously, school officials say
Incidents uncommon, but usually happen in spurts across the county
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Even if a bomb threat Monday at East Hall High School was the work of a prankster, school officials say they will not take the incident lightly.

"You're always concerned that you'll have copycat crimes," Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said. "But you'd like to believe the price for pulling this prank is so steep that the vast majority will decide it's not worth it."

Fortunately, threats like Monday's incident - which caused the school to evacuate and lose instructional time - aren't common for the county or city school systems.

But Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said they tend to come in groups.

"If those students aren't identified, it could occur at another school," she said.

School leaders said they plan to remain conscious about security.

"You need to take all of them seriously," Dyer said. "You can't just say it's just a copycat and not respond."

Hall County Schools spokesman Gary Brown said bomb threats today are rare and generally sporadic.

"Years ago, we had a lot more of them," he said.

Brown said he believes the severe penalties, such as felony charges and suspension, as well as new technology, such as caller identification, have been a deterrent.

Dyer said caller ID helped track a student who called in a bomb threat in Gainesville several years ago. It was the last incident she can recall in the school system.

"It was very easy to identify who was on the absentee list and match their number to caller ID," she said.

In that case and Monday's incident, a specific threat was made. In the case at East Hall, a threatening message was discovered in the girls' bathroom that stated that "between 10:30 a.m. and noon a bomb would go off."

However, other threats can be nonspecific, such as a suspicious object or callers or letters that provide few details, Dyer said.

Within the last two years, Gainesville Middle School staff discovered a suspicious package outside the school and initiated safety protocol. The package was eventually cleared by police.

"Most of the time, if not all the time, it's a false alarm," Dyer said. "But there's always that thought in your mind that this time it could be a real threat. You want to handle it well."

Each school in Hall County develops its own evacuation procedure, and the decision to evacuate is ultimately determined by the principal.

Schofield said several times throughout the year, schools review their emergency plans for a number of situations, including severe weather and threats.

Lock downs are sometimes used, like in a case Tuesday morning when an escaped inmate was in the area of a few South Hall schools. The school works with the Hall County Sheriff's Office until the threat has passed, Brown said
In Gainesville, Dyer said in the last year, schools have begun practicing evacuation and lock down drills at times when the school is the "most vulnerable."

"We practice at lunch time or in the morning when people are just coming into school, or times when we might not know where everyone is," she said.

The sheriff's office along with the school resource officer are continuing to investigate Monday's bomb threat.

"They have started questioning a few folks to get as much information as possible," East Hall Principal Jeff Cooper said.

The school system also offered a $2,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of anyone associated with writing the threat.

Schofield estimates it will cost the district about $2,000 to pay for the extra labor and fuel for the buses used to evacuate students to the East Hall Community Center, about a mile away from the school.

"The greatest cost was to the 900 students who had a day of learning taken away from them," he said.

Cooper said the atmosphere at the school was calm Tuesday. He said in his four years as principal and 13 years as a teacher, it was the first crime of its kind.