Niagara Gazette — A 15-year-old Niagara Falls High School student who was looking for a “day off” has been arrested and charged with making the bomb threats that locked-down schools in the Falls and Lewiston.
Falls School District officials said the teen can expect a lot of days off now because he has been placed on a superintendent’s suspension pending the outcome of his criminal case.
The arrest was announced late Wednesday afternoon by Niagara Falls Police and the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office who conducted a joint investigation into the bomb threat.
“A male caller called into our 911 center and reported that a bomb would go off at Niagara-Wheatfield High School and Niagara Falls High School,” Sheriff Jim Voutour said. “We took that very seriously and launched a joint investigation.”
It took Falls Police Juvenile Division Detective Lorrie Alvarez and Niagara County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Brian Schell just over 48 hours to trace the call and arrest the 15-year-old suspect. The teen is not being identified because he is not being charged as an adult.
“He was interviewed and described what happened as ‘a prank gone bad’,” Falls Deputy Police Superintendent Kelly Rizzo said.
The teen is charged with first-degree falsely reporting an incident and will appear in Family Court to answer the charge.
Niagara County prosecutors and law enforcement officials said a recent change in state law kept them from placing a more serious charge against the teen.
“We’re not charging him as an adult because (this crime) doesn’t qualify for that,” Rizzo said.
District Attorney Michael Violante said if the law had not been changed he would have taken a hard line with the teen because of the “serious nature of his crime.”
“I made it plain, that if we charged him, there would be no plea (deal),” the DA said. “But the proper jurisdiction for this is Family Court and he could still face some (juvenile jail) time.”
The Niagara County Attorney’s office will handle the Family Court case.
“Had he been one year older, this person would be going to jail, no question about it,” Voutour said.
Investigators said the teen placed the bomb threat call from a cell phone that had been left at his residence by a home health care aide. Alvarez and Schell were able to trace the call back to the phone and then recovered the device from a snowbank on 38th Street in the Falls.
“It surprises me that the student didn’t think he’d get into trouble,” Alvarez said. “He said it was just a prank gone bad.”
Law enforcement officials said there was nothing funny about this “prank.”
“(The teen) made it very clear he had no intention of harming anybody, he just wanted a day off,” Rizzo said. “For anyone thinking of doing this, we don’t think this is a prank and we will use the manpower and resources we have to find them.”
Rizzo said the teen targeted Niagara-Wheatfield, as well as his high school, because he had a “friend” there.
“There was a connection to Niagara-Wheatfield, he has a friend who goes there,” the deputy superintendent said. “Maybe he thought he’d give him a day off too.”
Police later identified the “friend” as the suspect’s girlfriend.
Voutour said the incident was costly to both the school districts and law enforcement.
“It was very expensive and there was a lot of pain and hurt for parents,” the sheriff said. “I’m sure (the suspect) knows there are consequences (to his actions) now.”
The early Monday morning phone call led to the lockdown of both Niagara Falls and Niagara-Wheatfield high schools. Students at Niagara-Wheatfield were later evacuated from their school.
Bomb-sniffing dogs were brought into both facilities and found nothing.
Law enforcement sources told the Gazette they questioned the credibility of the threats almost from the beginning.
Falls police also addressed a second incident on Monday at Hyde Park Elementary School, that led to a lockdown there.
Investigators said the parent of a Niagara-Wheatfield student accidentally “butt-dialed” the cell phone of a parent of a Hyde Park school student. When the Hyde Park parent answered the call, he overheard the Niagara-Wheatfield parent discussing the bomb threat with his child.
“(The Hyde Park parent) thought there was a bomb threat at his child’s school, so he called us,” Rizzo said. “We sent a dog to sweep the school and then found out what had happened.”