Bomb threat forces Fairmont evacuation, but police find nothing in search


Photo: Sam Barton (main photo) and Ruth Jebessa (inset)

On Thursday, May 15, 2014, Kettering Police and members of the Dayton Bomb Squad responded to a bomb threat at Kettering Fairmont High School. Students and teachers evacuated the school, which was dismissed at 11:30 a.m., as the threat was investigated.

Kettering Fairmont High School students had an action-packed 4th period class on Thursday, May 15, when a bomb threat forced the school to evacuate at 11:30 a.m. About four hours later, Fairmont Principal Dan VonHandorf emailed the staff that no bomb was found.

“The Kettering Police and Dayton Bomb Squad thoroughly searched every room, hallway, bag and closet in the building and found nothing,” VonHandorf’s email stated. “This was what we thought it was – a student making a dumb decision and an empty threat.”

Fairmont staff had learned about the bomb threat and plans for an early dismissal in an email from VonHandorf at 11 a.m. that morning.

“We are working with Kettering Police to investigate a graffiti bomb threat left in a high school bathroom,” the principal wrote. “For the safety of students and staff, we are evacuating the building while we complete the investigation and search. We believe this is a false threat; however, student safety is our utmost concern.”

Teachers relayed information from the email to their 4th period classes to prepare the students for the dismissal announcement by VonHandorf. Sophomore Mallory Waker was in her Yearbook class and said her teacher, Jessica Stickel, was reassuring.

“She informed us we were leaving early,” Waker said. “She was calm and it helped us stay calm.”

This was what we thought it was – a student making a dumb decision and an empty threat.”

— Dan VonHandorf

In fact, many students and teachers alike were calm about the situation. “The initial news frightened me, but I trusted the authorities to handle it,” said Katie Johnson, a West Unit geometry teacher.

Freshman Nathan Spangler also said he wasn’t too concerned. “I think it was a joke,” he said. “I didn’t think that they would call the bomb squad for it, but apparently they have to even though they probably thought it was a false alarm.”

Other students, however, were frightened by the threat. Amna Nawaz, a sophomore at Fairmont, said she wished students had been given more information.

“I was really scared,” said Nawaz. “I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Nawaz wasn’t alone in her concerns. “I was in West Unit when I heard about it and I thought that I was going to die,” said freshman Austin Tackett.

Students were told to exit the school in their usual manner. The district’s Transportation Department had the buses waiting, and students who are usually picked up by parents were told to go to Trent Arena to meet them. Parents had been notified through an all-call phone system.

Perhaps as surprising as the evacuation was the announcement from the principal that students could not take their backpacks with them as they left. Students were told to leave their backpacks in their 4th-period class and that they could retrieve them the next morning.

Fairmont Principal Dan VonHandorf and a representative from the Kettering Police Department are interviewed by the media because of the bomb threat at the high school. (Photo by Sam Barton)
Fairmont Principal Dan VonHandorf and a representative from the Kettering Police Department are interviewed by the media because of the bomb threat at the high school. (Photo by Sam Barton)

Waker was one of those a bit rattled by that order. “I’m such an organized person, I feel empty without my backpack,” she said.

Others weren’t upset by the order. “I didn’t really care about my backpack being left because it meant I didn’t have to do homework that night,” Nawaz said.

The disruption, however, came at an inconvenient time of the year. Teachers are busy trying to wrap up lessons and prepare students for their exams next week. In addition, line-of-march practice for the graduating seniors had to be postponed, as was at least one AP exam.

In addition, the threat prompted Fairmont to institute a new rule for the rest of the school year. Students who leave a classroom for any reason must now complete a sign-out/sign-in form in the classroom, in addition to carrying a pass.

VonHandorf said the school will continue to work with the police to determine who is responsible for the threat.

“I think the person who did this is in for a world of hurt because they incited panic,” English teacher Kristin Allen said. “In this day and age, we just can’t joke like that anymore.”

VonHandorf said he was disgusted by news of the threat. “We work really hard to build a community where all kinds of kids are welcomed and appreciated,” he said. “Someone who would think or write something like that is not embracing that culture.”

Despite the incident, however, VonHandorf is resolute in his confidence that Fairmont is a safe school.

“I want students, parents and staff to know a lot of things went right today,” he said on the afternoon of the evacuation. “Students, staff and parents all reported that there was a problem. The school administrators worked hard to collect as much information as they could and to make an informed decision. The Board Office was supportive and a great resource and our Kettering Police Department is first class.”

VonHandorf said he’s also satisfied with the school’s response to the incident.

“I want to thank everyone for playing a part in making what could have potentially been a real tragedy into something that was not,” said VonHandorf.

He also sees the situation as something to learn from.

“There is a great lesson here,” he said. “If you see or hear something that is not right, find an adult in the building, call the school and report it.”

Flyer Staff Writers Lily Condron, Emily Latham, Alexis Parlette and Jake Shook contributed to this story.