ELYRIA — Police knew the caller was lying Wednesday when he claimed there was a bomb under the bleachers at Ely Stadium shortly before Elyria High School graduation was scheduled to begin.
Elyria Schools Superintendent Tom Jama said the district hired a private security firm to guard the stadium beginning the day before the ceremony and that police had conducted searches of the venue looking for anything suspicious prior to the ceremony.
Elyria Police Chris Costantino said the call came in to the Elyria Police Department about 15 minutes before the ceremony began at 7 p.m., but police had searched under the bleachers and knew there was nothing there.
“The location they stated there was a bomb? We were there and we knew it wasn’t there,” he said.
Costantino, Jama and Elyria Schools spokeswoman Amy Higgins said police and district officials wanted to make sure that nothing disrupted the celebration of graduates and took extra security precautions because of two unfounded bomb threats against the high school in the last two weeks.
Higgins said the public
wasn’t made aware of the bomb threat because it wasn’t deemed credible and because the timing of the call meant that information was being gathered as the graduation was taking place.
Costantino said if police hadn’t been able to quickly rule out the possibility of a bomb or other threat, then things would have played out differently.
“If there would have been a credible threat to anyone’s safety, we would have taken different steps,” he said.
The caller did make a reference to the 15-year-old sophomore whose name previously has been mentioned by the online hacker group investigators believe to be responsible for the threats, but police went to his house and determined he wasn’t involved, Costantino said.
The teen’s lawyer, Kenneth Lieux, also said the boy wasn’t involved with Wednesday’s threat.
“That call came in and they checked out my client and confirmed he had nothing to do with it, so whoever it is is still at it,” Lieux said.
The student first fell under police scrutiny May 22 when a caller to the Lorain County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security said he was in a high school bathroom with weapons and a propane tank he was prepared to detonate.
The school was placed on lockdown and police searched the building as worried parents gathered outside. The searches turned up nothing and students eventually were released from school early.
The boy told police he had run afoul of the hacker group when he refused to do something it wanted him to do. First, he told investigators, the group threatened to “dox” him by releasing his personal information online.
Then they moved on to “swatting,” a practice in which a false emergency is called in to trigger a large police response. Police have said the bomb threats were instances of swatting.
The boy was released after talking to police, but he found himself back in custody Monday after he allegedly posted an image on the photo-sharing application Snapchat of an electrical device with a caption that read “Say I won’t bring this (expletive) to school.”
Also posted was an image of an airplane accompanied by the words “ALLAHU ALBAR.”
Another student saw the images and told a parent, who reported it to police, who at the time were searching Elyria High School after receiving another bomb threat Monday. The caller said he was a student upset about a bad grade and that he planned to use a gun and explosives to “shoot up” the school Tuesday morning.
Police said no explosives were found Monday and school opened normally Tuesday, albeit with heavy law-enforcement presence.
The teen told police it was a coincidence that the Snapchat images were posted at the same time as the second bomb threat. Lieux has said his client did post images on Snapchat, but those images were altered by a third party before being released to a wider audience.
The teen was charged with making terroristic threats and inducing panic, but those charges were quickly dropped and he was ordered released from the Lorain County Juvenile Detention Home on Tuesday.
Costantino said detectives don’t want to rush the investigation and it is possible the boy could face charges at a later date.
He said police are trying to trace the people who have made the bomb threats, but that is difficult because the callers have used internet phone services rather than landlines or mobile phones. He also said it appears that the group may have been involved in similar activities elsewhere in the country, but declined to discuss specifics.
Jama said although the student hasn’t returned to the school since the second round of threats, he couldn’t discuss what, if any, internal discipline the teen might face.
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