By Timothy Chipp and Rick Pfeiffer
An early morning phone call led to the lockdown of a local high school and the evacuation of another Monday. Police are now working to track down the caller.
Investigators from the Niagara County Sheriff's Criminal Investigation Bureau have teamed up with Falls Police detectives to find out who made the call.
"They are trying to trace down the source of the phone call," Niagara County Undersheriff Mike Filicetti said Monday afternoon.
The call, which came into the Niagara County Sheriff's Office 911 Center at 7:55 a.m., reported that bombs had been planted at both the Niagara Falls and Niagara-Wheatfield high schools.
Falls police officers responded to the Porter Road high school, while sheriff's deputies, Lewiston Police officers and New York State Police troopers raced to the school complex on Route 31.
Officials with the Niagara-Wheatfield School District made a decision to evacuate students from their school.
"The kids were taken over to the Sanborn Fire Hall and they stood-by there," Filicetti said.
With both Niagara-Wheatfield High School and Edward Town Middle School empty, bomb-sniffing dogs from the sheriff's office, the State Police and Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Police swept both buildings and quickly notified district officials the conjoined buildings were safe to re-enter.
"The K-9 units found nothing there," Filicetti said, "and the school was re-opened."
Niagara-Wheatfield Superintendent Lynn Fusco said the district focused solely on the safety of the students at the buildings, leading to the evacuation order. The decision affected busing schedules for all elementary students in the district, who were delayed by one hour so resources could provide transportation to the Buffalo Street fire hall, she said.
Once accounted for, students were permitted to be dismissed to any parent with proper identification, Fusco said.
With a situation like this arising quickly, Fusco said the district's safety teams would be reviewing the response and re-evaluating procedures moving forward.
"What we will be doing is having our safety teams meet to debrief everyone involved of the events of the day," she said, adding the sheriff's office would be part of the procedure. "We'll be working to improve our responses to these situations."
Some parents took to social networking to express their disgust with the lack of efficiency in dismissing children from the fire hall. Some felt the wait was too long, the room was too crowded inside or the lines of communication between themselves and district officials needed to be more efficient.
Fusco, who spent the entire morning at the middle school, said she's heard some of the complaints but also recognized positive feedback she'd received. She said most of the comments she saw thanked Niagara-Wheatfield for ensuring safety of the students trumped everything else.
"I've received both," she said. "Some people were frustrated, while I also received notes, emails and phone calls telling me how thankful they were for the way we handled everything. They were very pleased the safety of the children came first. Because the threat was not defined, we made sure with the evacuation of the children."
She also extended her gratitude to the Sanborn Fire Co. for its assistance in the matter.
While Niagara-Wheatfield evacuated, students at Niagara Falls High School were put into lockdown throughout the event.
Parents were notified via the district's all-call system and informed of the situation as details became available, district spokeswoman Judie Glaser said Monday.
A team of three police K-9 units was used to search the school and, as at Niagara-Wheatfield, found nothing.
"At 10:28 a.m. the school was taken off lockdown, after being cleared by three (bomb-sniffing) dogs." Falls Police Superintendent Bryan DalPorto said. "They found nothing."
Sources told the Gazette that the police agencies involved believed the threat was "probably not credible" after the 911 call was received. Nonetheless, they activated an emergency response to make sure that students were safe.
Falls district officials dealt with a second threat issued Monday when an anonymous call was placed to Hyde Park Elementary at 12:18 p.m. According to Glaser, a lockdown of the building was initiated and lasted until 12:48 p.m., when staff and students were given the all-clear.
Officials were unclear whether the threat was related to the ones made to the two high school buildings or an isolated incident.