SUNNYSIDE Schools in three Lower Yakima Valley school districts were locked down nearly simultaneously Tuesday, Feb. 27, following threats.
Districts and students were on full alert in Prosser, Grandview and Sunnyside. An unconfirmed threat was also reported in Granger.
Outside the lower valley, the Warden and West Valley (Yakima) school districts also reported threats.
The threats and related lockdowns are continuing today, at least in Sunnyside, where district officials said they received a new social media threat targeting the principal late Tuesday.
“Sunnyside High School will operate in a state of lockout with an increased police presence on Feb. 28 due to a social media threat that was received,” the statement said. “Sunnyside police and district administrators are investigating.”
The threat was the third time in less than a day that the district was on alert.
The first alert was a false alarm.
“At approximately 9:56 a.m. this morning, a lockdown alarm was accidentally activated at Harrison Middle School,” a press release from the district said. “Students and staff responded appropriately and after it was determined to be a false alarm, school continued as normal.”
The second Sunnyside lockdown was initiated at about 12:22 p.m. after the “discovery of a threat at Sunnyside High School,” a second press release said.
The blue lockdown light flashed on the outside of buildings on the School District’s main campus, which encompasses Chief Kamiakin Elementary School, Harrison Middle School and Sunnyside High School. Gates were closed and electronic reader boards flashed “lockdown in progress” as district employees directed motorists away.
Details of that threat were not released prior to press time.
Meanwhile in Prosser and Grandview, police and schools were also investigating incidents.
Prosser High School students spent the morning locked in the Housel Middle School gymnasium after a small bomb was found in Room No. 308 of the high school.
Students on campus were first put in the high school gymnasium, then later bussed to the middle school.
A student located the bomb at 7:10 a.m. by a bench and notified a security officer, who contacted police.
“He described it as 3 inches tall and 1 inch wide,” police spokesman Mark Cole said.
The officer responded and found the device “wrapped in black tape” looking like it had “some kind of fuse attached to it.”
Cole contacted the Richland Police Department, which sent it’s bomb squad. He also contacted the federal Hanford Patrol, which dispatched a trained bomb-sniffing K-9 unit.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was also notified of the incident.
“We wanted to make sure we didn’t miss anything,” Cole said.
At 2:44 p.m., the Prosser School District issued a press release confirming that the Richland Explosive Ordinance Unit had determined the device was a “small explosive.”
“ATF is assisting with the investigation and will be conducting an examination of the device in order to determine more specific information,” the release said. “The Prosser School District is cooperating fully with the investigation and is putting additional measures in place to continue monitoring the situation and ensure the ongoing safety of our students and staff.”
Cole echoed the safety of students is foremost.
“That’s our No. 1 priority, making our schools safe,” he said.
“I know people are worried about their kids, but we go through extensive training each year.
“You can’t stop every threat, but we’re confident that if something happens here at our school, we’ll be able to take care of it.”
Prosser freshman Cameron Buckles said the incident was unnerving for several students on his school bus.
“We were almost to the high school but the bus took a left and went to the middle school,” he said. “They put us all in the gym and told us there was a bomb threat.
“It freaked some of the kids out on our bus.”
Buckles said it was a little scary that something like this could happen in Prosser.
“I hope nothing like this ever happens again,” he said.
Cole said the department will be taking a look at two students expelled from the high school two weeks ago after they made threats. Investigators will be looking at others, too.
Grandview school officials and police are also trying to connect the dots on their second threat since last Friday.
The school was on a lockdown for 72 minutes as a result of Tuesday’s threat, district spokeswoman Elena Olmstead said.
That lockdown followed the report of a student on campus with a gun.
Grandview Police refused to provide details of the incident after the lockdown was lifted.
Students and adults who were on campus at the time shared some information on social media, including information that the gun-toting student had a map of Grandview High School.
The four arrested in connection with last Friday’s threat also had maps, police records show.
But so far, neither police nor school officials were connecting the cases.
Olmstead said regardless of any connection, the district takes “these matters seriously.”
Administrators remained on campus last night until all students had left.
Athletic practices and after-school activities continued as usual, she said, calling her school district’s security protocol “secure and teach,” rather than as a lockdown.
Julia Hart contributed to this story.