International Falls schools resumed classes Tuesday after a bomb threat led to a lock-down, evacuation and street closures the day before.
“A bomb-sniffing canine was brought in from Duluth Police Department and all district buildings were searched,” said Superintendent Kevin Grover in a news release Monday night. “No threat was found, and as of 5 p.m. the campus is deemed safe. (The) incident remains under investigation by law enforcement.”
An increased law enforcement presence was at each building Tuesday, and staff were available to talk to students.
Shortly before 11 a.m. Monday, Grover said a Falls High School student reported seeing a potential bomb threat written in a school bathroom. District schools went into lock-down and shortly after, local law enforcement, the International Falls Fire Department, school administrators and many other agencies evacuated about 1,100 students from both schools to First Lutheran Church.
“We take all threats very seriously,” Grover said, adding he appreciates the help of students when reporting suspicious activity. “We hope this is an isolated incident... and that it comes to 100 percent conclusion. The safety of our students is our No. 1 priority.”
School officials placed an emergency call to notify parents, guardians and any listed emergency contacts of the threat and that students could be picked up at the church. Most students appeared calm and stuck together as they arrived at the off-campus location.
“Getting students out (of the buildings) went very well,” Grover said. “There was some congestion when parents started (arriving at the church) and there are things to improve (with that process).”
Some parents expressed frustration on social media that the evacuation location was disclosed, but Grover said in a situation like Monday's, there are students who do not ride buses and people needed to know where to pick their children up.
“In this case, we just needed students out of the buildings as safely and quickly as possible,” he said. “That was our focus.”
Littlefork-Big Falls Schools implemented a closed-campus protocol Monday due to the threat made to the International Falls schools. St. Thomas School also closed and students were sent home.
Koochiching County Sheriff Perryn Hedlund told The Journal Tuesday the International Falls Police Department is leading the active investigation and that officers are tapping into a lot of resources to determine who is responsible for Monday's threat.
“In situations like this, people are always asking who, what, when, where and why,” he said. “Pretty quickly, we knew the what and the where, and the when wasn't 100 percent clear. But the who and the why are tougher to answer. We don't want to jump to conclusions or overlook anything... So many people come forward in these types of situations and we sit down and talk to everyone.”
Both Grover and Hedlund said they were impressed with how smoothly the evacuation went, while also acknowledging areas that need improvement will be considered.
“We'll gather everyone back together and have an after-action report,” the sheriff said. “We'll discuss what went well, what didn't go so well and what we need to improve on.”
In addition, Hedlund said in an emergency event, many people in charge of the situation had children in one or both of the schools.
“These folks controlling the scene probably have a kid they just want to get to, but they have to make sure everyone stays safe,” he said. “Something like this causes a lot of stress and trauma not only for the parents, but everyone else involved... You could see the concern and relief on faces. We're thankful we got through the incident and nothing bad happened.”
Grover said Monday's lock-down and evacuation offers a good reminder of how important it is for parents and guardians to have updated contact information in the schools' system.
“The system is only good as the information in it,” he said. “When we went into lock-down and evacuated, we did an emergency call that will go to every emergency contact listed for a child or children... People who didn't get the call need to contact either school office and the secretaries can update contact information.”
The superintendent said he was proud of the staff and the community for how everyone stuck together Monday.
"The community resources that respond and that are there are unbelievable," he said.
Going forward, Hedlund reiterated the IFPD is leading the active investigation and the sheriff's office will offer assistance as needed.
“We're as interested as the public to find out who is responsible for this,” he said.