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Patrick Springer, Published May 09 2012

Fargo police chief calls response to bomb hoax 'seamless'

FARGO – Police Chief Keith Ternes said the public should be reassured by what he called a “seamless” response to what turned out to be a hoax call reporting a bomb threat Tuesday at Agassiz School.

The phoned-in report of a bomb in the school and of a shot fired prompted officials to initially lock down the school, then relocate students for a thorough sweep once nobody with a gun was found.

“We have some very structured and very disciplined plans in place,” Ternes said, adding that police have collaborated closely with school officials on response plans for several years.

“What we accomplished yesterday was very seamless,” the chief added. “There was no real chaos.”

Ternes and Rick Buresh, superintendent of Fargo public schools, said the threat had to be taken seriously.

The decision to evacuate the building was made as a precaution given the reports of both a bomb inside the school and report of a gunshot. Officials decided to “err on the side of caution,” Ternes said.

Asked if authorities have any leads, Ternes said police have gathered a lot of information and are actively investigating.

“At this particular point it appears to be a hoax,” Ternes said. “We will do everything possible to find the person who was responsible for the phone call.”

Twenty years ago, a similar threat would have prompted a more low-key response, Ternes said. But in a time of school shootings and near instantaneous communications via cellphones, text messages and social media, officials must react quickly.

“You could count on one hand” the number of calls reporting bomb or gun threats that have caused as much concern over the years, Buresh said. “It’s really pretty rare.”

Buresh added that what sounded like a gunshot was audible in the background of the call. “This was very unique,” he said.

Also, he added, “The person was on the phone for some time,” probably more than 30 minutes.

Buresh acknowledged that some parents complained about the way the situation was handled. He said the school system’s automated phone notification system called all the numbers in its database, but said the district can’t assure that it contains every number.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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