Words “bomb threat” on school answering machine prompts evacuation and search

Law enforcement vehicles on scene after a bomb threat at Devine Middle School on April 13.

A message left on an answering machine at the Devine Middle School, with the words “bomb threat” in it, prompted officials to take quick action to secure the safety of the children and staff early last Friday morning, April 14, 2017 right before school was to begin. The search began with “all hands on deck” and the students were lead off campus by some staff to the nearby high school gym. Police secured the entrances to the middle school while others and staff searched the buildings. Police investigated the call and interviewed several during the four hours.
“The voicemail was less than 3-4 seconds, and said ‘Bomb threat b****es,’ ” according to Devine PD Lieutenant Chris Andrews. ” We had at least 10 different people listen to the message and that was the consensus. It sounds like a male voice, and nothing else was heard in the background. We are subpoenaing the phone records, which can take a few weeks or up to a month to determine the actual phone number of the incoming call.”
When asked to describe the way it sounded a fellow officer said it sounded kind of “gargled.”
The voicemail was left on the principal secretary’s phone located in the middle school office at 4:15 p.m . Thursday afternoon, and a district employee first heard the message Friday morning around 7:25 a.m. just before school started.
“There was a female parent that did call that day around the same time-frame, but she left a different message. The voicemail with the threat did come in the same day that various students were searched at school. Maybe it is a coincidence, or maybe it wasn’t, anything is possible,” said Lt. Andrews.
As of press time Tuesday the caller has not been identified. If arrested, the person who made the threatening phone call would be charged with False Alarm or Report, which is a state jail felony offense, punishable from 180 days-2 years confinement and a fine up to $10,000.
Police officers and staff searched the building during the four hour process. It concluded with a search of the campus by specialized dogs brought in by two ATF Officers. The black lab and the white English lab (named Nanny) were used to try to sniff out possible “bombs” and related materials as they searched the buildings and outbuildings to confirm it was safe to return and resume student activities. Nothing was found. Around lunchtime the children were brought back from the high school gym to the DSAC for lunch and then back to the middle school to finish out their day.
The normal school bell rings at 7:50 am at the middle school but on that Friday morning the children were all outside the building waiting for the bell as police cars started rolling in and lining up in the front drive to the school instead. Police and staff quickly secured the building and staff safely removed the children to another campus. At one point there were at least nine police cars in front of the building. The students were told it was a drill while they waited in the HS gym.
Devine ISD Superintendent Scott Sostarich put out a district wide message around 8:24am to let parents know a “threat” had been received on an answering machine and the children were safe at the high school. A social media message was put out as well by Principal Kandi Darnell. Later around lunch time (12:04 pm) another message was sent to confirm the campus was searched and confirmed safe and the children were returning to their campus to resume activities.
A few concerned parents stopped by the school to check on things as well as at the high school.
No one was allowed back inside the building except those involved in the investigation and local and county police as well as the ATF officers and dogs.
Superintendent Scott Sostarich was at the school during the investigation.
“Mrs. Darnell and her staff did a great job with moving the students and keeping them calm while working with all law enforcement agencies involved”, said Superintendent Sostarich. “I want to thank Chief Benavides, our School Resource Officer, Zek Perez, and all Devine officers who assisted, as well as Donny Whitaker and our Medina county officers who responded. I also want to thank Marcus Alexander, the ATF, and U.S. Marshals Officers who responded, and ensured our buildings were clear. I appreciate our parent and community support, and their trust and patience in working with us to ensure our students’ safety”.
The last time Devine PD investigated a bomb threat was the threat at Walmart on December 21, 2016.
by Kathleen Calame