Bomb threat prompts evacuation of Berkshire Waldorf High School in Stockbridge
STOCKBRIDGE — Police are investigating the source of a bomb threat Tuesday that prompted the evacuation of the Berkshire Waldorf High School.
A call from a "fake number" came in to the Stockbridge Police about noon from a male who said he planted pipe bombs in the school lockers and that he had "full magazines," according to Police Chief Darrell Fennelly.
Town police arrived and evacuated students and staff to the gym at the Stockbridge Town Offices before checking the school and determining there was no danger. The state police bomb squad and a canine unit arrived soon after and confirmed the threat to be false.
Fennelly said police were working with the Berkshire District Attorney's Office to determine the source of the phone call.
Although the threat ended up being a false alarm, it prompted a very real response that jarred the small community.
It was a strange afternoon of darkening skies and flashing lights. One local police officer stood guard outside the emptied-out school, holding a semiautomatic rifle.
Christine Joffe, the mother of one of the students pulled up to the scene after getting a text from her daughter Sophia, in which she wrote that there had been a bomb threat made to her school, but the details were still unclear.
Two other parents arrived soon after, stunned by the news.
And as they waited in town for their school to be declared safe, one student after another said they found the threat to their private school of 45 students to be "surreal," and reflected upon finding themselves less insulated from broader societal trends than they may have previously thought.
"It's more of a national issue," said Solomon Bennett, a senior, referring to the heightened awareness about school shootings and related threats. "It seems separate and disjointed in a sheltered, sleepy, cozy hometown in the Berkshires. It hasn't quite hit me yet."
Bennett, 18, said the seniors had been working at the Stockbridge Library when the school was evacuated, and upon learning of the threat, walked from there to the Town Offices with other students and staff.
"It's surprising and surreal," said Nadzieja Janota-Wilt, 18. "Now when I go to school there's something to worry about, when before, there wasn't."
Katie Rumin, 15, said she was accustomed to thinking such threats only happened at big public schools, like the ones in Princeton, N.J., where she used to live.
"Now, here it is," she said. "I'm having a delayed reaction."
For others, the fear was felt right away.
"It was stressful," said Isiah Goewey. "There was a lot of adrenaline."
Sophia Joffe, 17, said it had been alarming to see a police officer come into the school holding a rifle, and tell everyone about the threat and that they had to leave.
"It's something that doesn't usually happen in such a small school," she said.
Once in the safety of the Town Offices, Fennelly gathered students, teachers and administrators in the gym to explain what had happened. From there it was all about getting students home as far away as Chatham, and with parts of the area under a tornado warning.
Back at the school, students thanked Sarah Blexrud, an administrator, "for handling this so well and getting us out of here so efficiently," as junior Luke Lamond put it.
A town police officer was still parked out front, seeing students off.
"Have a better day," he said to a student who thanked him before leaving.
Blexrud and Stephen Sagarin, the school's director, finally sat down after a harrowing afternoon, while parent Allison Larkin came in handing out slices of pizza. She reported that Rajeev Verma, the new owner of the Elm Street Market, had given her a deal on water to bring to the students while they were waiting at the gym.
Blexrud said the entire situation had been handled quietly and calmly by police. Sagarin said the school's evacuation plans had "worked perfectly," and that having an outside door in each classroom helps.
"We've prepared for it, but we didn't expect it," he said.
Sagarin said that in his 33-year teaching career, he's never seen a bomb scare. When asked if he had any suspicions about who the caller might be, he said he had no idea.
"My suspicion is that it's not someone related to our community," he said.
Heather Bellow can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871
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