BEMIDJI -- A “suspicious” caller in the Twin Cities area made an unsubstantiated bomb threat against Bemidji Area Schools early Tuesday morning.
After investigating the threat and the circumstances, area law enforcement and school officials say the threat is likely not credible. “The threats made by this individual have not been substantiated at this time,” Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin said in a release.
School district’s response
Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz said the district was first notified of the situation around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, April 27.
“I got a call this morning from the chief of police who had received a call from the metro area that there was this caller who had made a call to, of all places, the highway patrol in the East Metro of St. Paul, claiming that they were going to ‘blow up all the Bemidji Area Schools,’ Lutz told the Pioneer around 9:45 a.m. Tuesday morning.
A little after 8 a.m., the district notified parents via email, text and robocall of the potential threat, so parents could make the decision whether or not to pull their children from school.
The initial notification to parents stated, “I would like to let you know about a call that was made to the East Metro Highway Patrol dispatch in the Twin Cities this morning referring to a bomb threat in Bemidji. When the dispatcher asked this Twin Cities caller to repeat, the caller, who sounded like a teenager, repeated their claim.
“Law enforcement officials in the Twin Cities and here in Bemidji do not believe that this is a credible threat since this person was calling from the Twin Cities. However, out of an abundance of caution, officers and district custodial staff are checking the perimeters and the interiors of all of our schools to look for anything unusual.
“We do not believe this threat is real, but I would like to let you know about this situation so that you may decide whether or not to pick up your children from school today.”
Lutz said in the time since the initial call, school buildings have been thoroughly checked for anything suspicious.
“We have had law enforcement and custodial staff checking the perimeters of our buildings. Nobody could have gotten into our buildings last night. Nothing is out of the ordinary and working with law enforcement, we believe this is very non-credible,” Lutz said. “But we did want to make sure that we were completely transparent and make sure parents knew about this, so that if they had concerns, they can pick up their children, some parents are doing that today.”
Some parents have taken to Facebook to announce that they will be picking up their children regardless of whether the threat is credible or not.
In the meantime, Lutz said the school day is continuing, but that students are under shelter-in-place -- what used to be known as a soft lockdown. Lutz said this was more to ease the potential chaos in the parking lots and the possibility for children to get hurt if parents are coming to pick up their children.
Mastin said the decision of whether or not to go into a lockdown is entirely up to individual school districts.
Law enforcement response
Around 9:50 a.m., Chief Mastin sent out a press release detailing the incident.
The release stated, “On April 27 at approximately 7 a.m. the Beltrami County Dispatch Center received information from the Minnesota State Patrol East Metro Dispatch in St. Paul regarding a suspicious 911 call they had just received. Beltrami Dispatch was informed that the metro caller had made the statement they were going to ‘blow up Bemidji Area Schools.’ When pressed by the State Patrol Dispatcher, the caller stated that they ‘got bombs already set up in every Bemidji Area Public School available.’ The caller then hung up.
“The 911 call has been traced to originating in an area of Ramsey County. Detectives are continuing to work on identifying who made this call. Bemidji Police Officers and Beltrami County Deputies have responded to all Bemidji schools and checked the perimeters. The Bemidji Police Department has been working with Bemidji Area Schools, Voyageurs Expeditionary School and Trek North High School administrations to share information and ensure the safety of all children,” the release concluded.
In a call to the Pioneer around 10:15 a.m., Mastin said he hesitates calling the situation “not credible," until the situation is fully investigated.
“It's definitely not been substantiated,” he said. “We don’t know that it's not credible until it's been fully investigated. And we're still working on that. But at this point, it's not been substantiated, I suppose you could say not been substantiated as a credible threat.”
Mastin said law enforcement is currently working to determine who made the call and why.
“We're working on finding who possesses this phone, and who made that phone call this morning. We're working with cellular carriers to track this in an attempt to locate that person. Because although it was made in the metro, we still have the ability to track the phone, and potentially locate who made this phone call. And then, obviously question why and get more details,” he said. “The Bemidji Police Department will continue to work with the Minnesota State Patrol and Minnesota Fusion Center to identify this individual. The Bemidji Police Department will continue to communicate with Bemidji Schools in an effort to assure the safety of our children and their staff.”
Social media response
Social media has been abuzz since the parent notifications were distributed Tuesday morning. Many parents indicated on Facebook that while the threat may well be a prank, they were taking their children out of school.
The caller did not make clear whether this threat was toward a specific school, so charter schools were on the alert as well. While speaking with the Pioneer, Mastin clarified that law enforcement has notified all area schools, including other charter and private schools.
Voyageurs Expeditionary School Director Scott Anderson posted a statement online reading, “We were notified this morning by the city of Bemidji Police Department of an anonymous phone call they received regarding the bombing of all Bemidji school buildings. The call originated from the Twin Cities and authorities both there and here in town do not feel this is a credible threat. We are alerting you so that as parents you may decide whether to pick up your child from school today. We have searched our school building and grounds and found nothing to be suspicious of.”
Frequency of threats
Mastin said he didn’t know exactly when the last threat was made against a school in Bemidji, but did mention he hasn’t written a press release about a threat since 2014.
Lutz said he had not dealt with a threat against the schools during his three years as Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent, but that he had experience responding to them at other points in his career.
He mentioned sometimes these types of threats seem to increase in the spring, and noted that testing was taking place at some of the schools in Bemidji on Tuesday.
“We are maintaining a heightened sense of alertness because anytime we get a call, we do that. But this is the time of year when we do get calls occasionally for a bomb threat, as they seem to be linked to springtime -- to not wanting to be in school anymore or to do testing. We actually are testing today. So, it could very well be a prank that some kid has pulled to try to get out of school, we don't know,” he said.
Mastin said typically threats like these generate a lot of public worry and attention.
“They garner a lot of attention and a lot of worry from parents, and they should,” he said. “The school district and the police are working hard to keep parents informed and find out who did this and solve this case. Because of course, we all want our kids to be safe.”
Those with information regarding the incident may contact Crimestoppers of Minnesota anonymously at their website www.CrimeStoppersMn.org, by calling (800) 222-8477 or by using the P3 Tip Submit smartphone app.