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Student bomb hoax is harsh lesson in life

Published Sep. 28, 2005

(ran PS edition of Pasco Times)

When Crystal River Middle students on a field trip flash a sign in the bus window about a bomb, a motorist calls officials, who pounce full force.

Two Crystal River Middle School students were joking around while riding a school bus Friday morning. They ended up starring in a scene that could have come from a bad action movie.

The students and their classmates, all eighth-graders, were en route to the Medieval Fair in Sarasota, according to school principal Linda Alexander.

"There was a car following with parents who were chaperoning," Alexander said. "Two of the kids were sending (showing) notes back saying things to the parents. . . . One of them (the notes) said, "Bomb on Board.' "

A driver not affiliated with the school group saw that sign in the bus window and called authorities on a cellular phone. Law officers immediately sprang into action.

The incident ended about 9:30 a.m. on Interstate 75 near the Hillsborough County line. Law officers from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and Florida Highway Patrol surrounded the bus while a police helicopter hovered overhead, authorities said.

Once law officers realized the case was a hoax, they moved on. But the two boys were in plenty of trouble: They were suspended from school for 10 days, pending expulsion proceedings, according to Gail Tierney, public information officer with the Citrus County Sheriff's Office.

"They learned a lot about life and the seriousness of things," said Alexander, the principal. "I've got to say, though, that the gentleman passing them acted accordingly. I would hope that any driver passing a school bus that would see something like that would take it seriously."

Because of student confidentiality rules, Alexander could not say what might happen to the boys. However, the Student Code of Conduct clearly states that expulsion is a possible punishment for students who make false bomb threats.

The rest of the students returned to school early Friday afternoon without continuing to Sarasota. They returned to their regular classes.

"It wasn't funny," Alexander said, noting that the bus driver had quite a scare when all the police cars surrounded the bus. "It was probably like a scene from a movie."

She said that there is a hard lesson to be learned.

"We talked about what is happening in society today and that this is not something that you can joke about. You can't joke about it because it has to be taken seriously with society being the way it is now," Alexander said.

"Unfortunately, it's very difficult to get this through to kids. This unfortunately is learning about life in a very difficult way," she said. "I only wish we had foresight like hindsight."

Tierney said charges were not filed because investigators could not locate the witnesses who phoned in the complaint.