A bomb threat at FDR High School on Feb. 26 led to the evacuation of the school for hours and the arrest of a 17-year-old FDR student later that day, and it almost canceled the Black History Month assembly slated for that evening.
School officials remain tight-lipped in the aftermath, saying that they could not comment on disciplinary action taken against the student, whose identity has not been released. And in a school board meeting the following night, board members conducted a discussion on school security but did not address the bomb threat until asked about it by an audience member.
According to a Hyde Park Police report, school officials alerted the police at approximately 3:23pm to the bomb threat, which was apparently written on a boys’ bathroom wall. The school was evacuated shortly after.
A student “found a threat of a bomb going off prior to an assembly scheduled for 6:00 pm at the school,” the police report said. Hyde Park Police, using two bomb-detecting K-9 dogs from the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office, immediately responded and evacuated the building. School officials and police then reviewed surveillance footage and identified a suspect, the police report said.
Detectives went to the Poughkeepsie home of the 17 year old student and brought him to the Hyde Park Police Department for questioning. The student, who has not been named because he may be eligible for youthful offender status, reportedly confessed to police and told them during questioning that it was a hoax. He was charged with first-degree falsely reporting an incident, a felony charge.
Students and staff were allowed back in the building when it was cleared at 5:20pm after school officials and police completed a search of the building.
FDR principal Barbara Marrine told the Observer, “We are extremely thankful for all the professionalism and support we received from our authorities. Everyone was safe and our evening events went on as scheduled.”
Tenth grader Ayale Williams, who organized the special assembly celebrating Black History Month that was held at the school that evening, told the Observer she did think attendance was lower because of the bomb threat.
“Since we had the bomb threat, a lot of people did not come. But there were 120 people that came…and we made $300 from selling food…It is very sad, but it was still a success,” she said.
Lieutenant Robert Benson of the Hyde Park Police Department said the police would not release the text of the bomb threat while the case is still in court. But he confirmed that the threat referred to the assembly that night, although he said the Black History Month topic was not mentioned, just the gathering itself.
Benson added that he saw many such threats during the six years he worked as a school resource officer, though he could recall no other instances where someone was caught and charged.
And, he noted, the threats are less likely now with better security systems.
“Now with so many cameras in the buildings, really as an investigative tool, it’s very helpful for us in locating people like this…We knew we had a couple of suspects right away…We never solved a lot of them when I worked in the school because you would have to wait for somebody to talk to somebody or tell them that they did it; it was very hard to investigate those,” Benson said.
According to Hyde Park Justice Court records, the suspect was arraigned in front of Judge Kennedy on Wed., Feb. 26 and remanded to the Dutchess County Jail on $12,500 cash or $25,000 bail bond. He was due back in Hyde Park Justice Court on March 11.
In response to public speculation on whether the charge was too harsh, Benson said, “If you think about the totality of that threat, what it does to people in the building in this day and age, I think it needs to be a felony. If it was anything less than a felony and people didn’t end up going to jail for it, you’d have kids doing it every day they didn’t want to take a test…It needs to be taken very seriously.”
At the school board meeting on Feb. 27, Tom Molloy asked the board members to address the incident. “Now I know everything was taken seriously but…we just heard a report from the high school about security, [with] no mention of these events at all. I thought that was kind of odd, especially when this bomb threat may or may not have been in relation to the assembly that was taking place last night. I think that’s very troublesome, and I would hope, which I’m sure is true, that the district takes it very seriously,” he said.
Trustee Daniel Duffy responded, saying in part, “The student involved was identified through use of the security system up there. He has been brought to jail, he has been charged with a felony, he is currently out on bail and faces a long jail sentence. So the seriousness of what occurred at the school has been recognized and the prosecution is in process for that.”
Aviva Kafka, who was acting district superintendent at the time of the bomb threat, added, “In terms of the school district, we can’t comment on individual student discipline matters in public, which is why I can’t say more about what the school can do on top of whatever’s happening at this time.”