While Chesterfield County School Board members were discussing safety issues Monday evening, in light of the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office, along with the staff and administration of Chesterfield Ruby Middle School, were putting strategic plans into action — in light of a bomb threat that sent students and parents away from the District Spelling Bee.
“It was a bad situation that worked well,” said Chesterfield County Superintendent Harrison Goodwin. “Our partners in law enforcement got information that was linked to activities at the school and acted quickly.”
According to Chesterfield County Sheriff Sam Parker, information given to Chesterfield Chief of Police Eric Hewitt led to the interception, through social media, of “some bad choice of words.” Words, he said, “we simply couldn’t ignore.”
The same words that forced nervous Spelling Bee participants and their parents out of the building, also led to the arrest of a 13-year-old girl, although no explosives were found, lawmen said.
“The young lady will remain in custody with the Department of Juvenile Justice in Columbia for 48 hours,” said Parker, “awaiting a hearing.”
Authorities also plan to question someone else, yet to be identified, in connection with the threat. That suspect is believed to be a woman in her early 20s, said Parker.
Goodwin learned of the threat and decided to clear the building for the Spelling Bee, by text, while conducting the regular monthly school board meeting in Pageland. “Especially considering no one could reach me, the top administrator, at the time,” said Goodwin, “the response to the situation was textbook. All of the pieces of the response team puzzle fit together, which is good to know.”
Students and parents evacuated the building immediately, said Goodwin. And due to the length of time it takes to fully search a building, he said, it was decided quickly to send everyone home and reschedule the event.
Goodwin had no idea Monday, at the time of the meeting, how his words on safety would soon resonate. “We’re not preparing for that kind of tragedy,” he said of the Connecticut massacre. That kind of malicious intent would be hard to stop anywhere, he said.
“What we want to do is provide good, common sense protection, day to day,” said Goodwin.
Goodwin made several suggestions on how to beef up security measures at each of the county’s schools. Photo badges, along with a check-in system for visitors should be in every school, he said. Safety doors have already been installed at Plainview and Cheraw Intermediate.
Keyless entry and access to buildings was also on Goodwin’s list, along with more fencing. He suggested, and the board agreed Monday, to hire an “outside set of eyes” to look for possible glitches in safety procedures or facilities. “It’s nickle and dime money to pay for a lot of peace of mind,” he said.
Tuesday morning, Goodwin said the experience this week at Chesterfield Ruby Middle School should remind us of two things: We should take solace in knowing how diligent our law enforcement and administration were able to respond to a possible situation, and it should remind parents and students how significant and destructive the wrong words can be, especially when used in social media.
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, or by email at email@example.com.