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Chamberlain High School student injured after small device explodes, police say

TAMPA — At 8:30 a.m., as students in a special-needs class walked down a hallway at Chamberlain High, a plastic bottle rolled out of a classroom.

Pop! It exploded like a gunshot. The acid bomb burned the socks and shoes of student Alese Bodiford, who has cerebral palsy. Chemicals reddened skin on her hand and knee.

A teacher ran for the school resource officer. Administrators and police converged.

But by the time investigators determined Monday morning which classroom the bottle came from, any suspects were gone.

"This may be a kid who thinks he's playing a prank, but this is a prank that comes with very serious consequences," said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. "Somebody was injured. It was very disruptive to the school."

The school went on lockdown.

A bomb squad searched for similar devices and found one in a boy's bathroom.

Officials washed Alese's skin. They called her mother, who picked her up from the school.

"What? What? Is she okay?" Scott Bodiford implored when his wife called with the news.

Alese, 18, is fine, her father said. She was shaken up, but didn't need to go to the hospital and plans to return to school today, he said.

Police spent the rest of Monday investigating. They interviewed four possible suspects, but they didn't arrest anyone. They plan to continue their investigation today and will post additional officers at Chamberlain, 9401 N Boulevard.

Police could charge the responsible person with one of several charges, including aggravated battery — a felony, McElroy said.

After discovering the second homemade device in a nearby boys restroom, the bomb team deactivated it. No other devices were found, and the lockdown was lifted at noon.

Police said the explosion was caused by what they described as an acid bomb: a plastic bottle filled with household chemicals. They are not sure if it was constructed on or off campus.

Scott Bodiford said he doesn't plan to transfer his daughter to another school. He's had four children attend Chamberlain and said an incident like this could have happened anywhere.

"You'd like to think your child is pretty safe going to school," he said. "But if you look at Virginia Tech and Columbine, there's only so much (school officials) can do."

Still, Nancy Benitez, who arrived at the school about noon to pick up her niece, said she was concerned about safety.

"I think I'm going to withdraw my niece from the school completely," she said.

School principal Thomas D. Morrill sent a letter home with students. It explained the lockdown was a result of an incident involving "a small plastic bottle containing some common household chemicals" that made a "loud popping noise."

"There was no damage and no one was injured," the letter read.

When asked about Alese's injuries, Hillsborough County schools spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said school officials thought that because soap and water took care of Alese's burns, she wasn't injured.

"It's semantics," she said.

Tenth-grade student Kiana Corrales, 16, said she doesn't plan to show her mother the letter. She'll just explain what happened, she said. Even though she was stuck for several hours in her intensive reading class, she heard about the student's injuries.

So did 11th-grader Zakar Nathaniel, 17. But he also received some unexpected attention — he fit the general description of a possible suspect. He said police interrogated him for about an hour.

He was let go.

"I don't even know how to make a bomb," he said.

Cobbe said schools see more disruptive activity as the end of the school year approaches. And she had a warning for students:

"Don't do it," she said. "We will prosecute. Law enforcement will investigate, and you will be taken to jail."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Security tightened at Chamberlain High after an acid bomb went off in a hallway.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Security tightened at Chamberlain High after an acid bomb went off in a hallway.

Chamberlain High School student injured after small device explodes, police say 05/17/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 18, 2010 12:21am]
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