GUILFORD, Maine — A state police dog trained to find bombs discovered explosive residue in a locker after a handwritten bomb threat forced the evacuation of more than 300 people and a search of the Piscataquis Community Secondary School campus at noon Thursday.
The dog indicated to his handler the presence of residue in a Piscataquis Community High School locker adjoining another locker that was mentioned in the note, which warned that a bomb within a specific locker would explode at a specified time later that day, said Lt. Bob Young of the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department.
Bangor Police Department Bomb Squad members and two search dogs, a German shepherd and black Labrador, found no explosives after they and a dozen police spent most of the afternoon searching the evacuated high school and adjoining Piscataquis Community Middle School, Young said.
Police won’t know whether the incident was a prank or something more serious until they identify suspects and discern a motive. They have several leads, Young said. They also seek to see whether the residue was part of an explosive or if its presence was coincidental.
“If this kid [who used the locker] had ever been in a hunting camp or had shotgun shells in his pocket, that residue is something the dog would detect,” Young said Thursday. “There was something there that the dog could detect, but there’s nothing there that’s an explosive now.”
SAD 4 officials will take the strongest disciplinary action necessary to maintain school safety, Superintendent Paul Stearns said. That could range from counseling to permanent expulsion, and SAD 4 would likely support the lodging of criminal charges against anyone involved, he said.
“It is very disturbing for folks to have their lives disrupted this way,” said Stearns, who called the incident the most severe of its type he has seen in eight years at SAD 4.
“It is a pretty serious situation,” Young said. “It interrupted a school day. It cost a lot of money to have so many police here, and a lot of high-tech equipment was used [to make the search]. You have to take an incident like this very seriously.”
A bomb threat incident at the high school about six years ago, Stearns said, caused the suspension and psychological counseling of a student whose family cooperated very closely with school officials.
Thursday’s incident began shortly before noon, when a male high school student found the note on his laptop when he returned from lunch to his desk. The student immediately told a teacher, who notified school administrators, and that set off the emergency evacuation processes for the two schools, Stearns said.
“The student did exactly the right thing,” Stearns said.
The evacuation of the schools went smoothly, as did the almost immediate notification of more than 700 parents via an electronic system that made about 1,100 telephone calls in four minutes, Stearns said.
School dismissal occurred at about its regular time, 2:42 p.m., though there were some delays caused by the evacuation. Middle school softball and baseball games were postponed on Thursday because players could not access their equipment within the closed school, said Stearns, who explained that the two schools are referred to commonly as the secondary school, but the names of both were retained to preserve students’ sense of identity.
Police did not relinquish control of the schools until after 4 p.m.