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Bomb scare had kids heading for another school

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By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald

Nearly a week after a bomb left jangled nerves at Westwood Elementary School, police haven't been able to determine who was responsible for a blast that caused plenty of noise but minimal damage.

Interim Superintendent Mike Nelson said he had been in contact with the King County Sheriff's Office and authorities are “continuing to pursue” some slim leads.

“They say it's like putting puzzle pieces together,” Nelson said.

The Feb. 12 bomb shattered four windows on the back side of the rural elementary school but did little else in the way of physical damage. It did, however, cause a major shakeup the following morning when staff, and then students, began arriving at school.

“All our schools have an emergency plan,” Nelson said. But last week's situation threw an additional variable into the mix, as school officials quickly determined to keep kids off campus.

Students arriving at Westwood were put on a bus and taken to Thunder Mountain Middle School. Parents had the option of transporting kids themselves.

Nelson said nearly everhthing went according to plan. A glitch occurred, though, when a Seattle news outlet aired a report making the situation sound much worse than it was.

“We were getting inundated with calls,” Nelson said, noting that district administrator Terry Parker remained at district headquarters, efficiently easing parents' fears.

“Everyone did their part,” Nelson said. For example, Finance Director Tim Madden was stationed more than a mile from the school, accompanying a King County deputy at the intersection of 236th and 416th.

The incident taught administrators just how many parents rely on the district Web site for information. Between 9 and 11 a.m. on the 13th, district staff updated the Web site four times to keep the news as fresh as possible.

“They went to it constantly,” Nelson said, adding that parents have expressed their appreciation for the constant updates.

The blast has also given district leaders the opportunity to evaluate the emergency plans. The administrative team has already met to review what happened, Nelson said, “and we're constantly trying to figure out what we could have done even better.”

The bomb blasted the back side of Westwood Elementary School the evening of Feb. 13, causing minor damage but disrupting the following morning's routine for faculty members and approximately 400 students.

An explosive device was tucked into a duct of one of the school's heat pumps, just a few feet from an exterior wall. Initial reports indicated there was no damage to the school wall, although four large windows - stretching across two classrooms - were shattered.

Neighbors reported hearing the explosion about 8:30 Monday evening.

Misty Crick, whose home faces the rural school across 212th Avenue Southeast, said the blast was intense enough to shake her walls and rattle the nerves of her teenage daughter.

The damage wasn't discovered until the next morning.

School officials immediately notified the King County Sheriff's Department, then made plans to send Westwood students - in kindergarten through fifth grade - to Thunder Mountain Middle School. Buses arriving at Westwood were forwarded to the middle school; kids arriving either on foot or transported by parents were sent directly to waiting buses, then whisked to Thunder Mountain. None were allowed inside Westwood.

Bomb experts investigated the scene and police performed a search of the school. Finding everying in order, they gave the OK for students to be returned to Westwood. Shortly after 11 a.m., buses returned kids to their school.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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