Homer Police this morning have two suspects in custody after Homer High School was evacuated this morning when a suspicious device was found in a stairwell at about 8:55 a.m. All 370 students and staff were evacuated safely within three minutes. Classes have resumed and the school is back on a normal schedule, the Kenai Peninsula School District said in a release.
“At all times, students were safe which is our number one priority,” Pegge Erkeneff, a school district spokesperson Erkeneff said in the press release.
Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said Zachary Fraley, 18, and a 16-year-old boy have been arrested on charges of first-degree terroristic threatening, a felony. School staff identified the two as being responsible for making the device and putting it in the stairwell, Robl said in a press release. The boy was released to his parents. Fraley remains in jail. Fraley and the boy said the incident was done as a prank, Robl said.
Robl described the device as a metal coffee can with wires protruding out of it and with a battery inside. He called it a “nonviable explosive device” and said nothing in it would have caused an explosion. The device has been seized for evidence.
“It’s got some weird junk in there basically,” Robl said.
According to the school district press release, the device “was quickly determined to be nonthreatening.” The area around the device was secured. Students and staff followed protocols practiced in monthly fire drills and avoided the wing of the building where the device was found.
Robl said he was still talking to officers and did not know how the device was determined not to be a threat.
Homer High School Principal Dr. Allan Gee found the suspicious device, Erkeneff said. He determined it was suspicious by the way it looked, she said. Dr. Gee then called law enforcement immediately, Erkeneff said, and evacuated the school and activated the district’s emergency action plan.
Homer Police officers responded and made sure the school was thoroughly evacuated and that there were no other suspicious devices. The school was cleared for re-entry and students returned to classes.
Robl said that school officials did not call 911. Homer Police did not hear about the incident until police got a call from an Alaska State Trooper saying the high school was being evacuated.
“There’s some real confusion here regarding the initial call. The school for whatever reasons did not call 911,” Robl said. “I’m very disappointed at how this initial call came in.”
Robl said that Dr. Gee called Sgt. Lary Kuhns through the regular police administration line and said something about a senior prank. Kuhns was not available. Police then heard about the evacuation from a trooper, Robl said.
When calls are made to 911 from a Homer phone number, emergency calls are routed to Homer Police dispatchers working out of the office on Heath Street downhill from the high school.
Robl said the Homer Volunteer Fire Department also was not called.
If high school officials had called 911, “It would have been an immediate, quick response to an unidentifiable device in the school,” Robl said.
Police also would have called the fire department and assisted with evacuation.
Erkeneff said protocol for the school district’s emergency action plan was followed. Law enforcement is welcome to participate in emergency action drills, she said.
This is a developing story and it will be updated as more information becomes known.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.