Moultrie Observer

Local News

August 23, 2011

All schools evacuated Tuesday

2 people in custody following bomb threat

MOULTRIE — Two people were in custody Tuesday afternoon after a bomb threat caused the evacuation of more than 8,500 Colquitt County Schools students.

As searches at schools continued into the afternoon, Xavier Sims was taken into custody in Doerun about five hours after a bomb threat was called into 911 at 9:15 a.m. A relative at the house where Sims was found also was taken into custody, accused of telling officers that Sims was not there.  No explosive devices were found at any of the schools.

School and law enforcement officials said that the caller, who identified himself as “Travis Mitchell,” did not identify a school in the threat, causing the evacuation of all 14 school facilities across the county. The caller, who initially asked the operator for a Moultrie Police Department Cpl. Dave Underwood, said that a bomb would explode at 1:15 p.m.

Deputies were posted at all schools in the county, with Moultrie officers at schools inside Moultrie as schools were evacuated and later as searches were conducted at the facilities.

“Folks just crazy,” said Preston Williams, who was picking up his 11-year-old son Nyquavious at First Baptist Church of Moultrie, where some students were sent. “It don’t make sense to do stuff like that.”

Williams was at the church after Nyquavious did not arrive on his bus and his wife called to notify him of the boy’s whereabouts.

“They handled it pretty good, especially for all the students and all the schools,” Williams said.

Superintendent Leonard McCoy said that the school emergency plan went into effect immediately after notification of the system, with more than 26,000 calls made to parents’ phones. Bused students were loaded up and dropped off at home and parents were allowed to pick up students at schools.

The students who remained were taken to off-site locations where possible until they were picked up. Other off-campus sites used were Norman Baptist Assembly in Norman Park and a community center in Funston.

Since the 911 call originated from a cell telephone in the Doerun area, that campus was the first searched with bomb-sniffing dogs from Moody Air Force Base, McCoy said. By 3 p.m. the dogs had been through Okapilco and Norman Park elementary schools, the next closest campuses to the site where the call was made.

The dogs also were to go through the three largest schools: Colquitt County High, Willie J. Williams Middle and C.A. Gray Junior High.

School officials also were walking through all of the other eight schools, with the area to be covered totaling more than a million square feet, McCoy said.

The school system also phoned updates to the larger industries in the area, including Sanderson Farms, Riverside Manufacturing and National Beef, McCoy said.

“I’m most thankful that nobody was hurt,” he said. “I hate it so bad for the disruption on the lives of people, but when it comes to a situation of this nature we can’t make assumptions.”

School is scheduled to resume today. No make-up day will be required for Tuesday’s missed classes, McCoy said.

As officers manned the schools, sheriff’s investigators and agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation searched the Doerun area for the caller. Moultrie firefighters, police, deputies and about a half-dozen Georgia State Patrol officers manned a command center at the Colquitt County School Board offices.

Sims, 24, had not been charged with any crimes as of 3 p.m. Tuesday. The Ellenton man has a lengthy criminal history, including a conviction in 2008 on charges of forgery and theft by receiving for which he served 10 months in prison. He also was charged in cases last year that included charges of terroristic threats, obstruction and theft by taking.

The caller to 911 said that Underwood, a Moultrie police investigator, had ruined his life and that he, in turn, wanted to cause as much trouble to the officer as the officer had caused him, sheriff’s Sgt. Randy Stephens said. The caller also said he had entered an unspecified school at about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, placing a bomb in it. He also threatened to call all local media outlets, causing a panic.

District Attorney David Miller said Tuesday that he cannot comment on this specific case, but that a bomb threat typically carries a charge of terroristic threats. The maximum sentence for a conviction of that crime is five years.

“Scary,” is how Barbara Lane, picking up grandson Cameron Crosby Tuesday afternoon, described her reaction. “They’re doing what they need to do. That’s all we can ask for.”

Russell Moody, Colquitt County Emergency Management Agency director, and McCoy said that officials will examine the response with an eye toward how to be more efficient in the event of another school emergency.

“There’s always an opportunity after anything to get back together and talk about what you’ve done,” Moody said. “They activated the plan. The safety of the students was number one.

“The good thing is the swiftness of all the agencies. They jumped into action immediately and made decisions to keep the children safe.”

Reporter John Oxford contributed to this report.

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