Friday, November 12, 1999

Schools reopen with extra caution

Bomb threat was traced to prisoner

Enquirer Contributor

        MASON — Three days after school officials received a threat that a school would be bombed, students returned to classes Thursday under increased police scrutiny — and without backpacks.

        “It went well. We're getting back to normal,” said Shelly Benesh, the district's public information officer. “We had a pretty normal attendance today.”

        Although there were no incidents Thursday, students will not be allowed to bring book bags or heavy coats to school until Monday. Those who do will be subject to a search, Ms. Benesh said.

        Mason's six schools were closed Tuesday and Wednesday after a former student, Christopher Kerr, 28, allegedly sent a letter to school officials that said a bomb would explode in the high school cafeteria Wednesday. School officials and police searched the buildings and found no bombs Tuesday, but they were locked until classes resumed Thursday.

        Superintendent Kevin Bright will ask the Ohio Department of Education whether the two days could be counted toward the five calamity days schools are allowed each year. A new state law calls for schools to make up time missed due to certain incidents — including bomb threats — in 30-minute increments after school.

        On Wednesday, police announced that Mr. Kerr, an inmate at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville, had admitted to police he had sent the threatening letter. Mr. Kerr has been in solitary confinement at the prison since 1998 and has had no contact with anyone outside the prison, police and school officials said. Charges against Mr. Kerr are pending.

        “I was real proud they took action when they found out (about the threat),” said parent Neta Morton after she dropped off her son at school Thursday. “I would have sent him to school (Wednesday) because I trust the system. But he was scared.”

        Nicole Hagen said it was strange to come back to school after an unexpected midweek holiday just before exams were to have begun.

        “I think it's kind of freaky coming back. It's kind of scary. I don't mind not carrying a book bag or coat,” said Nicole, 14, shivering outside in the predawn chill. “I know how easy it is to slip something into a book bag or coat. It made me a little nervous. I think they made the right decision.”

        Parent David Billman said he's not sure he would have sent his son to school Wednesday if classes had been held.

        “It's a shame it has to happen. I don't think it was overkill. I do not want them taking any chances,” Mr. Billman said.


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