Alton, IL

Illinois 3rd in Nation for Bomb Threats

Story by WBGZ Radio

In just the first few weeks of school this year, only two states have experienced bomb or violent incident threats at schools more often than Illinois.


Last week, four Springfield public schools were evacuated after bomb threats. That was just a few weeks after another public school in the capital city was evacuated, also because of a bomb threat. The threats were fake.


Dr. Amy Klinger, director of programs at Educator’s School Safety Network, said in just 20 school days, Illinois had nine threats and incidents overall, third most in the nation.


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“These threats and incidents are occurring nationally,” Klinger said, “but Illinois does for whatever reason sort of rise to the top here in terms of getting off to a rocky start so far for the school year. And in our data from last year, these threats have been sort of ongoing.”


Klinger’s group said in the 2016-2017 school year, Illinois ranked No. 7 with 92 threats of violence and five actual incidents of violence impacting more than 104 schools. And as of Oct. 1 this year, the group said, “Illinois is third in the nation in terms of threats and incidents of violence in school. This is a disturbing trend that appears to be continuing into the current school year.”


California and Pennsylvania have had the highest number of incidents so far this year.


Klinger said threats should be taken seriously.


“But that does not equate with mass hysteria, panic, evacuation, cancel school, stop learning, have every firemen within 20 miles sitting on campus," she said, noting that a lot of protocols are outdated.


“They are based on the 1984 bomb threat … where a kid is calling a bomb threat from a pay phone because they’re trying to get out of an algebra test,” Klinger said. “Today, the vast preponderance of [threats] come from social media, and if they’re not from social media they’re found in the restroom.”


Knowing what to take seriously is important.


“There are very different levels of threats. When you find a caller that says there’s a bomb in this location going off at this time because I hate this because of that reason. That’s a much more valid threat than some kid misspelling ‘bomb’ written somewhere on the bathroom stall,” she said.


The reason people make bomb threats vary, as do where they come from, Klinger said. It could be a student who finds the chaos of teachers and public safety personnel freaking out “way more exciting than ... first period french class.” That could lead to copycat threat-makers from within the school.


But threats could also be from an external actor.


“Someone who wants to create chaos and fear,” Klinger said, “and mess with what’s happening in the structure, so we have these outside actors doing this as well.”


Springfield Police arrested a 14-year-old student after last week’s threats.


Sangamon County First Assistant State's Attorney Dan Wright wouldn’t speak about the details of that case, but said communicating a knowingly false threat could lead to prison time and fines.


“That is a class three felony,” Wright said. “The potential penalties could range anywhere from a term of probation to a term of 2 to 5 years in the Department of Corrections.”


The fines could be up to $10,000, or more.


“There’s also a specific provision [in the law],” Wright said, “that relates to mandatory reimbursement of a school district's, or emergency response personnel, [costs] associated with the response to that kind of a threat.”


Klinger said schools need more training to avoid the cost of precious and limited public safety resources.


“Think of the amount of resources that are being consumed every time that you have a bomb threat,” Klinger said. “Instruction is stopping, parents are upset, fire, rescue, EMS, law enforcement, all those folks are being used up so there’s all of these resources being expended and for just a fraction of this cost you can train people.”


Educator’s School Safety Network, based in Ohio, provides training for schools on bomb incident management, that starts out at $2,500, plus travel costs.


But bomb threats aren’t the only concern. A students was injured last month in a school shooting Mattoon. An East St. Louis high school was placed on a soft lockdown last month because of a gun threat; and shooting threat in Metamora canceled class last Tuesday.


Ultimately, Killinger said there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution.


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