Bomb threat leads to school evacuation
After receiving an emergency alert shortly after 1:45 p.m. today, teachers evacuated their classes from the building, with students pouring out the doors and streaming towards Lake Opeka. Students with cars in C-wing lot were told to leave by car immediately. About ten minutes after being evacuated, Principal Dr. Eileen McMahon alerted students via email about the reality of the situation at hand: there was a bomb threat and the Des Plaines Police Department had instructed the administration to get everyone out of the building as quickly as possible.
While staff and students remained calm, there was lots of confusion going through everyone’s minds as they fled through the halls and down the staircases. “My initial reaction was that it’s not a drill. I was just in shock. Then, I started to worry because we weren’t told any details,” senior Angela Tran said.
It’s not an easy task to evacuate 2,000 students on the spot when faced with a crisis. Some students were forced to leave in their gym clothes, with their backpacks and things left behind. Others were even swimming in the pool when the message was sent. “All the freshmen were already in the pool and I was about to start my lesson for senior leaders. When the email was sent, [the teacher] told all the leaders to get the kids out of the pool, explained the message, and sent them to change. To keep everyone safe, I told them not to shower so they get out of there as quickly as possible,” senior Garrick Mitchell said.
At Lake Opeka, students in shorts and t-shirts — still dressed for PE — sheltered in the former Good Shepherd Lutheran Church that is being renovated to be a Des Plaines Park District facility. Family members of students, rushing to pick them up after getting news of the evacuation, lined Howard Avenue in cars. By 3 p.m. most students had walked, driven, or gotten a ride home, and the Lake Opeka rally point was nearly empty.
Being given the option to get into your own car and leave gave the upper class students who drive to school a huge advantage in leaving the school grounds to ensure their own safety. “I didn’t know what was going on or where to go for it, and I wasn’t sure what to do once we got to Lake Opeka. I was also pretty jealous of the upperclassmen that got to leave,” freshman Paige Foster said.
About two and a half hours after the evacuation, McMahon said the police search using dogs had located no bombs and the building was secure. “The disruption was frightening,” McMahon noted in an email, but she praised students and staff for their “quick and efficient exit from the building.
“I want to share how proud I am of the students and staff for their actions this afternoon when we dismissed school. They did everything we asked and followed directions as we provided them,” McMahon stated.
The individual who gave the threat is unknown currently, but the Des Plaines Police Department is actively investigating the situation. “We are working with the Des Plaines Police Department to identify who made this bomb threat,” McMahon said. “When it is discovered who is responsible, we will work with the police to prosecute the individual or individuals. If anyone has any information, please share that with the school. We take any threat to our school very seriously.”
Photos by Andrew S. and Dimitri Z.