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    Bomb threat empties Brooksville grade school

    A 10-year-old is charged with planting the fake device after missing out on a field trip to Busch Gardens.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 3, 2001

    BROOKSVILLE -- Using clay and colored wires, a Brooksville Elementary School student built a fake bomb over the weekend and then planted it at school Monday, causing a campuswide evacuation and yet another violence-related scare, authorities said.

    The fifth-grader, whose name the Times is withholding because of his age, has been recommended for expulsion and arrested in connection with the hoax. School officials say the boy was upset because he was not allowed to go with the rest of his class on a field trip to Busch Gardens.

    "He wanted a day out of school," said a stern Sue Stoops, principal of Brooksville Elementary. "He got several."

    So just as a busload of his friends left for the amusement park about 9 a.m., the 10-year-old told a teacher he had found a bomb behind a trash can in a boys' restroom. About 700 students were immediately evacuated to the Hernando High School stadium and gym, where they waited as police and members of the Tampa bomb squad descended on the school. About three hours later, authorities declared the device a fake.

    Many parents didn't wait that long to pick up their children and take them home for the day. Several expressed a combination of fear and irritation.

    "It shook me up a little bit," said Dawn Harvey, who came to check on her son. "Where do kids get these (ideas)?"

    School officials said they were also surprised at the fifth-grader's actions. They said he had no history of behavioral problems or violence. Information on why the boy was not permitted to go on the field trip was not availble Monday. The principal said that to qualify for the trip, students had to meet certain standards, such as completing homework assignments, and avoiding detention. The boy now faces charges of reporting and planting a hoax device, both felonies.

    Monday's events marked the first time a bomblike device has been discovered at a Hernando County elementary school. It was also the first bomb threat at the school in months. Other county schools, however, have recently seen an increase in verbal threats against students, including one rumor about gun violence that caused one-third of the students at Parrott Middle School to stay home March 16.

    Other area school districts also have had problems with bomb threats.

    Hillsborough School Superintendent Earl Lennard announced Feb. 28 that the district was enforcing tough new penalties for students who make bomb threats.

    Instead of being sent to alternative school, students now face expulsion for up to two years, and their parents can be held liable for restitution.

    Last month, there were 66 bomb threats in Hillsborough schools, up from 63 all of the previous school year. There were 35 in the 1998-99 school year and 15 in 1997-98.

    By comparison, Pinellas County has had 37 bomb threats this school year, exceeding by one the total for all of the last school year.

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