Bomb threats surfaced in all seasons and places over the past year in Wise County.
- July 24, 2012: Late on a Tuesday night a bomb threat was called into the Godfrey Pegues Library in Newark. Police and elected officials responded to scour the premises, but no bomb was located. “I don’t feel comfortable coming to work until we know who it was or why they mentioned the library,” said then-librarian Megan Suffling. During that time of the summer, the public library was holding reading programs for children, bringing dozens into the building every day.
- Nov. 2, 2012: A bomb threat found scrawled on the bathroom walls of Paradise High School on a Friday morning prompted an evacuation and forced students to sit for hours in a separate safe location as members of the Paradise Volunteer Fire Department and Wise County Sheriff’s Office conducted a thorough search of the facilities.
- Dec. 5, 2012: A note was found in a third-floor boys bathroom at Decatur High School on a Tuesday morning. The note, written on notebook paper, even indicated possible detonation times. The school was evacuated for four hours as members of the Decatur Fire Department and Decatur Police Department investigated the campus. This was the first of several bomb threats to strike at Decatur High over the next several weeks.
- Feb. 26, 2013: On Tuesday morning a bomb threat was found scrawled on the inside of a port-a-potty in an area under construction at Devon Energy’s sprawling natural gas processing plant in Bridgeport. The plant was evacuated, and the facility was searched for approximately seven hours as Wise County Sheriff’s Office, Bridgeport Police Department, Wise County medics, Denton Bomb Squad, Texas Department of Public Safety and Federal Bureau of Investigation all responded to the threat.
Over a seven-month stretch, bomb threats were made about once a month, most in public areas filled with children and in one case a large industrial facility processing an explosive gas on the edge of the second-largest city in the county.
It seems like they were made as a joke – a way for kids to get out of class or a disgruntled construction worker to get an extra day off. No thought was given to the seriousness of a bomb actually exploding in a public place or an industrial site going cataclysmic. You could tell most responders knew the threats probably weren’t real, but they still had to go through all the necessary motions and take each threat seriously.
Then last month, in the first full month of spring, we witnessed tragedy unfurl in two separate events that transfixed the attention of the nation and siphoned the sympathy of the world. The bombings at the Boston Marathon and the explosion at the fertilizer plant in West proved horror palpable when these threats transform to reality.
They proved that people never stop surprising you – either in their depravity or in their selflessness and sacrifice.
I hope they also proved that the threat of disaster at a public or industrial site is not a joke. Every time one of those bomb threats that turned into duds occurs in Wise County, it not only wastes the time and energy of our emergency responders, it can create a “boy who cried boom” syndrome.
I know every time we hear in the newsroom on the emergency scanner that a school is being evacuated for a bomb threat, it’s almost an automatic assumption it’s a fake. Thankfully our local firefighters and law enforcement still take them seriously and respond in kind.
These days, you never know when a lunatic might strike or a devastating accident might occur. They don’t need to waste time and energy responding to false calls.
When tragedy does strike, we will ultimately rely on our first responders, both for help in the crisis and in the pursuit of justice which will follow.
We hope those thinking about attempting such threats in the future take that into account, too, from now on.
Brandon Evans is a reporter for the Wise County Messenger.