By Carey Restino
A recent incident at Homer High School raises some questions and some eyebrows when a crudely made fake bomb prompted school officials to evacuate the school, but no call was made to 911.
Homer High students hardly had time to get comfortable Thursday morning before they were evacuated from the building after school administrators found what they thought might be a bomb.
According to Homer Police Chief Mark Robl, a teacher first saw the device in the stairwell around 8:15 a.m. and thought it might be a discarded science project, so pushed it out of the way. The “suspicious device” was made from an unmarked coffee can with an eraser taped to the outside of it and a couple of wires sticking out of the can’s plastic top.
A press release issued by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District said that Principal Allan Gee saw a “suspicious device” in a stairwell at the school and responded by evacuating around 370 students and staff.
“I found a suspicious device, and while realizing it was a week of senior pranks, took this seriously, and secured the area following the (Kenai Peninsula Borough School District) Emergency Action Procedure,” Gee is quoted in the release.
A call was made between 8:35 and 8:50 a.m., Robl said, by the principal’s secretary to Homer Police Sgt. Lary Kuhns saying there was a senior prank issue that required police response, but that the principal wanted to keep the response “low key.”
“There was no sense of urgency conveyed in that phone call,” Robl said.
Kuhns told the school secretary he would respond in the next 10 to 15 minutes, Robl said.
Homer Police then received word that evacuation was underway from the Alaska State Troopers, who Robl said got wind of the evacuation because one of the troopers was in a meeting with the district superintendent at the time. Police then responded to the school and cleared the building. A release from the Homer Police Department said that its investigation revealed an object appearing to be an explosive device, which had been moved and examined prior to the arrival of police officers by school officials.
While the whole thing may have been meant as a “prank,” school officials aren’t taking it lightly. Staff identified a 16-year-old male and 18-year-old Zachary Thomas Fraley as the two responsible for making the device and placing it in the stairwell.
According to police, both admitted to making and placing the device in the school, and were arrested for first-degree terroristic threatening.
The 16-year-old male was released to his parents, police said, while Fraley was being held in Homer jail. He has since been released on $1,000 bond.
Court documents charging Fraley stated that Homer Police Sgt. Lary Kuhns observed that the device was not a viable explosive device, but “had the appearance of an explosive device that would cause one to pause before examination.”
Class B felonies carry a sentence of no more than 10 years in prison in Alaska. First-time felony convictions can be reduced to one to three years and the accused may, if the court finds it appropriate, be granted a suspended imposition of sentence as a condition of probation.
Robl said early this week that he had not yet spoken with Gee or the school district about the situation, but that he looks forward to a conversation that might iron out some procedural standards for future responses. He said there are several details he doesn’t yet know, but said an evacuation in itself could have warranted police response because of the possibility of someone panicking or getting hurt somehow.
“I’m hoping what comes out of this is that emergency service providers in Homer can get together with borough school district officials and talk about what went right and what went wrong,” Robl said.
Robl said that, while some might question the way the situation was handled, such responses are warranted.
“We have to take threats and suspicious devices very seriously,” he said. “The reality is it’s what’s happening in our country. Sometimes they are real, as we saw in Boston, and sometimes people are getting seriously hurt or killed. We are going to have to react to these with a different level of concern than we would have 20 years ago.”
Homer High School Principal Gee did not respond to requests for an interview on Monday.