Pilot Point High School Threat
PPISD, first responders handle bomb, shooting threats
By Abigail Allen
When an adult at Pilot Point High School told Student Resource Officer Chase Raines about a bomb threat on the school that she received, the district and city jumped into action.
Within minutes, Principal Jacob Williams and Raines had the students evacuated from the main building into the fieldhouse, law enforcement officers from the Pilot Point Police Department and beyond raced to the campus, and the other PPISD campuses went into lockdown procedures.
“Everybody was moving at lightning speed,” Superintendent Todd Southard said. “I was really proud of how the city and the district worked with each other to ensure the kids were safe. My hat’s off to the city and the fire department and the police department, because they just did an amazing job.”
PPPD Detective Cole Green had worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Dallas-Frisco office on an internet based case that resulted in the arrest of a Pilot Point man on charges of possession of child pornography and online solicitation of a minor. He contacted his colleagues there for help processing the threat on the school.
In response, agents came to the scene, as did representatives from the Texas Rangers, the Denton County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the State Park Police and Officer Steven Antommarchi of the Hickory Creek Police Department with a bomb sniffing dog as well as the Pilot Point Fire Department and the Pilot Point Public Works Department.
Northeast Police Department Chief James Edland also offered to support Pilot Point as needed.
“We treated this as if it was a real and imminent threat, right up to the moment where we determined that it wasn’t,” Conner said.
Public Works blocked the roadway immediately in front of the high school to prevent traffic from flowing past or to the school within moments of the first call.
“At the time, we had no idea how big or how dangerous the situation could become, and that did not deter Trent or his staff from stepping up and providing any support that we asked for, and they did a great job, as did fire,” Conner said.
Before everyone could be moved fully off-campus, the district staff received an additional threat of a possible shooter connected to the bomb threat.
The PPISD transportation team literally answered the call to come get the people from the high school out of harm’s way.
“By the time I made the call to have the kids evacuated, we had seven buses, we’re loading kids and we’re dropping off the first bus of kids in 15 minutes,” Southard said.
Near the fieldhouse, the officers arranged themselves to protect the students, faculty and staff as they moved to the buses, and to respond if an active shooter situation did arise as the school community members filed onto the buses that carried them to the Pilot Point Middle School campus.
When they arrived, some of the parents were already on site and saw the kids disembark, relieved they were all safe.
Kim Waite, who has three children in high school, was on campus as Williams started the response to the threat. When she was asked to leave the PPHS grounds, she went straight to the middle school.
David and Rebecca Wortham sat in their vehicle, waiting in the air conditioning.
“It’s never easy when it’s your own kid,” she said, adding that she trusted the district to keep the kids, teachers and other staff members safe and was fighting the urge to pull their ninth-grader.
They were worried when they got a message from her saying she was worried there was an active shooter on campus.
“I was glad to see them crossing over and going into the gym,” Rebecca said.
At the middle school, the cafeteria staff from both schools helped get the high schoolers fed, and the teachers helped keep them calm, Southard said.
On the investigation side, the FBI helped Green determine that the call originated in The Colony, and the suspect, who is younger than 17, was arrested.
No related arrests were made in Pilot Point, Conner said, and the police are still investigating the motive behind the teenager’s alleged threats.
Once the evacuation was complete, the first responders swept the high school building, checking each room and the belongings inside of it for a bomb or firearms.
When none were discovered, the threat was determined to be a hoax, Conner said.
Calling in a threat about a bombing or a shooting at a school is a serious criminal offense that can result in a charge ranging from a state felony charge, according to Section 42.06 of the Texas Penal Code.
“Juvenile suspects, and even adult suspects, don’t often give consideration to … the costs incurred by the agencies involved in responding to an event like that,” Conner said “Restitution can be sought, and that can be fairly sizable in some instances.”
The district called off the football and volleyball games that were scheduled for that evening before the situation was resolved.
“I didn’t feel comfortable having any type of public event at that time,” Southard said.
He added that he wanted to give the other schools and their fans warning so they didn’t travel in vain.
Southard, who managed the district’s response throughout the day with the help of the other administrators, staff and faculty, said he was grateful for the way the city employees and additional law enforcement agencies worked with the district to handle the incident.
Having City Manager Britt Lusk and Mayor Shea Dane-Patterson on hand throughout the day at the command center set up in the bays of the new fire station was an asset, Conner said, because they could work with the first responders in the moment to handle the situation.
Lusk spoke of his gratitude for the relationship the city has with agencies on the local, county, state and national levels.
“We had a huge response,” he said. “It was really amazing.”
Dane-Patterson complimented the professionalism and the collaboration of everyone involved in the response and investigation.
“Everybody involved did a fantastic job,” she said. “Everyone, even the students being calm, all the way up to the FBI and everybody in between.”
The outcome was the best given the situation, Southard said, and it helped the district see ways it can improve its response to similar threats moving forward.
One way is to increase the number of walkie-talkie style radios that can reach any employee with one anywhere in the district, which helped ease communication in the Sept. 3 incident.
Another is to make it possible for someone who is off-site to handle the distribution of information through Remind 101 to free up the attention of the administrators handling the situation.
“Hopefully, there’s not a next time,” Southard said.
Conner also said the city and the school district, particularly SRO Joe Santos and Deputy Superintendent Dr. Harold Colson, will continue improving the security plan.
Southard feels having the students know there are armed defenders on campus in addition to the SROs helps the kids feel more protected, and he expressed his gratitude for the patience of the families and the community as a whole.
“Safety is paramount, and we’re going to do everything we can to keep our kids safe,” Southard said.