NEW MADRID - A suspect was taken into custody early today in connection with a bomb threat which emptied the schools in the New Madrid County R-1 School District Thursday morning.
Acting on a tip at about 1 a.m. today, New Madrid County Sheriff Terry Stevens said officers arrested a New Madrid resident in connection with the anonymous bomb threat called into 9-1-1 just after 10 a.m. Thursday. The suspect, who is not being named until formally charged, is being held in the New Madrid County Jail. Stevens said the individual has given a full confession.
The incident began just after 10 a.m. Thursday when the county's 9-1-1 operator received a report of a bomb under the bleachers at the middle school. A second call was received about 10:30 a.m. of a bomb at the high school, according to the sheriff.
School officials evacuated all students and adults at the Middle School within five minutes of the first threat report, according to Dr. Mike Barnes, superintendent. Officers with the New Madrid County Sheriff's Department, the New Madrid City Police, the Missouri Highway Patrol and the Federal Bureau of Investigation began a search of the site along with personnel from the schools.
With the second call, officers first searched the adjacent football field and after determining the site was secure, students and adults were sent to safety in that area. As a precautionary measures, students and staff at the district's three elementary schools were also evacuated from their buildings.
No explosives were found at the schools and students and staff returned to their classes at about 12:30 p.m. Thursday.
While admitting the bomb threat caused a major disruption to the school day, the superintendent had nothing but praise for the behavior displayed by the district's students and staff and the rapid response of law enforcement officials.
"Anytime something like this occurs you always worry about how people are going to react," said Barnes. "I think our students and staff conducted themselves admirably. In the world we live in today, you can never be certain that something we might have once thought to be impossible might actually occur."
Stevens also praised the school officials and students for their response during the threat. "The cooperation was excellent. The school handle the evacuation efficiently," he said. "Although this turned out to be a prank, it was not taken lightly. As always in a case like this the safety of the kids was paramount."
Through their investigation into the incident, the sheriff said they talked to several students and individuals not in school. Law enforcement officials were able to trace the call to a cell phone which was reported stolen in August. While the service to the phone had been disconnected, Stevens said the 9-1-1 capacity was still available enabling the calls to be made.
According to the superintendent, he and his staff will meet with law enforcement officials next week to review Thursday's events and how both groups responded. "I feel confident that we're well on our way to being as prepared as we can be for situations like this. That being said. I think we should all pray that we continue be fortunate enough to avoid the truly catastrophic events that school districts across the nation have experienced."
Both Barnes and Stevens said they hope the individual involved in the threat is prosecuted to fullest extent of the law.
"I think that its very important that the message go out loud and clear that there is a high price to be paid by those who get their kicks out of harming or threatening to harm either innocent children or those who are trying to ensure their safety," said Barnes.