PUEBLO COUNTY – 416 students and 44 teachers and staff members were forced to evacuate North Mesa Elementary School off 29th Lane on the mesa Tuesday when a bomb threat was called into the school. “The secretary picked up the call. Someone on the other end — it was a robotic voice — said that there was a bomb in the building,” said Ed Smith, superintendent of Pueblo District 70 Schools.
“They’ve practiced these scenarios,” said David Lucero, Law Enforcement Bureau Chief with the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office. “We’ve done it multiple times in the county. The evacuation was a success.”
Due to the age of the children, teachers and administrators did not tell the students the evacuation was due to a bomb threat. “In this case, they’re little kids. We didn’t tell them what it was,” Smith said. “It was a ‘fire drill.’ They went outside and we put them on the buses.”
The students, teachers, and staff were bused to nearby Pleasant View Middle School. Parents were told they could come pick up their children. A line of parents was seen entering a back portion of the building, waiting to retrieve their children. “We don’t know what’s going on or what they know, or really a lot,” said parent Christina Gonzalez. “Just that we have to pick them up because there’s a bomb threat. That’s very scary.”
“These can be very traumatic for parents, getting this information,” Lucero said. “Not knowing what’s going on, they’re only receiving bits of information.” Smith says word of the threat and evacuation was distributed via email, Facebook, phone, text, and other means. Still, Gonzalez says most parents were in the dark about the specific circumstances, knowing only where to pick up their kids.
Streets surrounding North Mesa were closed while the bomb squad swept through the building twice, determining the threat was unfounded and issuing the all-clear shortly before 3:00 p.m. People living inside the evacuation zone were prevented from returning to their homes for more than two hours. “I’ve been here 9 years and I haven’t seen anything like this,” said Joseph Martinez, a neighbor to the school.
Investigators will now try to determine the source of the phoned threat, and whether it might be a case of swatting, or intentional deception in order to incite a large, fortified law enforcement response to a location devoid of actual criminal activity. “We’ll go back and debrief with our detectives and see what information we can garner from the phone company,” Lucero said.