Kenai Magistrate Jennifer Wells on Friday morning released on bail a Homer High School teenager charged with terroristic threatening for placing a fake bomb in a stairwell at the high school. Wells set a $1,000 performance bond for Zachary T. Fraley, 18, a graduating senior.
Wells said $1,000 — the amount suggested by assistant District Attorney Amy Fenske — was an extremely low bond for a class B felony.
Fraley’s lawyer, Kenai attorney Kenneth Cole, entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.
At the request of Homer High School Principal Allan Gee, who attended a hearing for Fraley on Friday morning, Wells also set a condition that Fraley not go on campus until after the end of the school year on May 22.
Gee also said that because of the potential disruption to graduation ceremonies, Fraley will not be allowed to walk with his class next week, May 20. His graduation requirements will be allowed, Gee said, and Fraley will receive a diploma.
Fraley and a 16-year-old boy are accused of first-degree terroristic threatening, a class B felony.
In charging documents, Homer Police Sgt. Lary Kuhns alleged that Fraley admitted to making a device that appeared to be a bomb. Gee discovered the suspicious device, notified Homer Police and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Assistant Superintended Sean Dusick, and ordered an evacuation. All 370 students and staff evacuated safely.
Fraley is charged under a section of the statute that defines first-degree terroristic threatening “as knowingly sent or delivered a bacteriological, biological, chemical or radiological substance or an imitation bacteriological, biological, chemical or radiological substance and as a result caused evacuation of a building, public place or area, business premises, or mode of public transportation.”
In court, Gee said he had been aware that graduating seniors often pull pranks during the last few weeks of school. In that context, he evaluated the suspicious device and said he did not perceive it to be a threat. He said he had the school secretary call Kuhns and asked him to use discretion in responding.
“I followed district protocol,” Gee said.
Gee said that at no time did he feel there was a perceived threat and thus did not call 911.
On Thursday, Homer Police Chief Mark Robl criticized the school district for not calling 911. Homer Police heard of the evacuation from Alaska State Troopers. By coincidence, an Alaska State Trooper lieutenant had been meeting with school district officials and heard of the evacuation. He notified Anchor Point Post troopers of the incident to see if Homer Police needed assistance.
“That was my judgment call. I stand by it,” Gee said in an interview later. “If I had felt this was a serious threat, I would have called 911.”
Gee said that he did not know if the secretary communicated to police that there was a suspected explosive device. It was about 10 to 15 minutes after the suspicious device was discovered that Gee ordered an evacuation. Gee said because the device was in the B wing stairwell, a stairwell normally used in evacuations, he had to devise an alternate evacuation plan. A teacher stood at the stairwell to direct students to an another route. Gee told the students the building had to be cleared because of a “safety issue.”
Wells acknowledged that the alleged act might have been intended as a prank, but said that in light of the Boston Marathon bombings of April 15, the court had to take the incident seriously.
“That should never be the subject of a prank,” Wells said. “This conduct falls very squarely in the terroristic threatening statute in the crime.”
Wells said she appreciated that Gee resisted the temptation to overreact and that he acted in moderation.
In court, Gee described Fraley as “a good guy. Great character. Good family.”
Fraley’s parents and other family and friends attended the court hearing.
Gee said the 16-year-old boy and Fraley had been pulling a series of pranks on each other and that Thursday’s incident was part of that game.
“It was poor judgment, obviously immature actions on their part,” Gee said.
Since Thursday, seniors have told him the incident was not the planned senior prank.
Fraley’s next court appearance is a preliminary hearing at 3:30 p.m. June 6 in the Homer Courthouse.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.