Falls chief: Schools ‘well prepared’ for threats

NEWTON FALLS – Three weeks after Newton Falls students were evacuated because of a bomb threat, officials continue to discuss the way the incident was handled.

For one, threats won’t be erased until after police have seen them, Superintendent Paul Woodard said in a statement read at Tuesday night’s school board meeting. Also, the process to release students will be stricter, he said.

About 20 residents attended the meeting. Several parents voiced their displeasure ahead of the board meeting about how the threat was handled, but those attending declined to address the board.

”As with any situation, you learn from it and see what you can do better,” Woodard said. ”Did we do everything perfect? No. … Any time you deal with something like this, you need to look at, reflect and learn from it.”

On Feb. 26, it was brought to a teacher’s attention that someone had written ”Bomb 123” on a small crack of the wall in a junior high restroom.

”(Administrators) called the school police resource officer to notify her of this, but later learned she was off sick that day,” Woodard said.

Woodard was in Columbus for training that day. The principal sent him a text. ”When I called him, I told him to call the police, which he had done.”

He said the assistant principal had taken a photo of the words and then had them cleaned from the wall in order ”to not induce panic by a student who might go in there and see it.”

”No one knew how long it has been in there. … The police were then called to assess the situation,” Woodard said.

He said the words ”Bomb Today” were found later on the restroom wall and also removed.

”We will not do that if it every happens again and treat it like a crime scene. Perhaps they will be able to get fingerprints,” Woodard said.

When police arrived, they had the building cleared and searched. Nothing was found, but police recommended the school remain closed for rest of the day and evening.

Parents were notified by a voice message of what was happening. Woodard said another change is to only release students to those with proper identification as parents or guardians.

”It may slow the process up but that is they way we will handle it,” Woodard said.

A male student was arrested on charges of inducing panic, a felony, and taken to the Juvenile Detention Center in Warren. His name has not been released.

Newton Falls police Chief Gene Fixler said that he and the city manager met with school officials recently and he is confident a good procedure is in place. He wouldn’t discuss details.

“You certainly don’t give your game plan away. They have a very good plan; they’re well prepared. Anything that ever happens is always a learning experience, and it does help us to move on,” he said.

One thing that was discussed was the removal of the threats prior to police arriving on the scene.

“Any crime scene should be secured, whether it’s at a school, whether it’s at a house … leave it alone, leave it to us to make a determination of what should happen to it,” he said.