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School evacuated, but bomb is a phony

The Land O'Lakes High ninth-grader seemed to do the right thing Friday morning when he found what looked like a bomb in the boys' restroom.

He reported it to an assistant principal and the school-based sheriff's deputy. They evacuated the school's staff and more than 1,200 students and called the Sheriff's Office, which in turn called out the Tampa bomb squad.

But the bomb squad was busy helping with Barbara Bush's visit to the Tampa Bay area and couldn't immediately respond. By the time the squad members arrived at the school a few hours later, it was clear that they weren't needed _ and that the ninth-grader hadn't been as helpful as he initially appeared.

"He finally admitted to making and putting the bomb in the bathroom," said principal Albert Bashaw.

The "bomb" turned out to be a fake explosive complete with red, green and white flashing lights, a timer and an alarm. Another component was a "stress reliever" _ an electronic toy that makes different noises when buttons are pressed. The device was about 2 inches by 2 inches.

The youth put the bogus bomb on the bathroom floor and then reported finding it, Bashaw said.

The 16-year-old Wesley Chapel boy, whose name is being withheld because of his age, said he planted the bomb in the bathroom because he wanted to get out of school.

He got his wish. After being charged with planting a hoax bomb and disturbing a school facility, he was taken to the Juvenile Detention Center in San Antonio in east Pasco County.

His schoolmates got a break and were allowed to go leave early, too _ about 1 p.m., an hour before the school day usually ends.

"It happened near lunch and there was nothing to do really, but to let them go home," Bashaw said.

School officials couldn't tell at first whether the bomb was real, so they evacuated the school and called the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. After finding out that the bomb squad couldn't respond immediately, sheriff's officials got increasingly suspicious about the ninth-grader and took a look at the bomb themselves. They thought the contraption looked a bit strange, said Sheriff's Office spokesman Jon Powers.

"It really didn't take long (for the bomb) to start looking (fake)," Powers said. "And the boy said he had picked up the bomb and put it back down for a closer look. He was still around. We decided it wasn't a real bomb."

The school-based deputy began to suspect the youth had planted the bomb and questioned him more closely. The youth later admitted everything.

Friday was the first time a bomb threat had gone that far at Land O'Lakes High, Bashaw said.

"Generally, we get calls saying there is a bomb in the school," Bashaw said. "But we've never had a lookalike bomb."