Teenagers' Families Billed for False Bomb Threats to California High School

Families charged $3,700 for explosives search, evacuation, other city services


Each family of the three teens charged with calling in a false bomb threat to Atascadero High School in Atascadero, Calif., last week will receive a $3,700 bill for city services used in the subsequent evacuation and five-hour search for explosives.

"We provide for the safety of the general public, and if you utilize public services that are taken away from others, we're going to recover the cost of that," Assistant City Manager Jim Lewis said Wednesday.

"The city does want to send the message that false calls and use of public safety that already have strained resources is not a good idea."

The Atascadero Unified School District also will identify costs it incurred Friday during the false alarm and seek recovery for those, said Superintendent James Stecher.

The boys -- all 17-year-old residents of rural Atascadero -- were charged Wednesday with making a false bomb threat, a felony. If convicted, they face up to three years of confinement in the California Youth Authority, a juvenile hall or a camp, said Deputy District Attorney Andrew Baird.

Attorneys representing the boys declined to discuss the specifics of the cases.

Baird said two of the boys are expected in court Wednesday, and the third is expected Nov. 10. Until they next appear in court, they will remain at the county Juvenile Services Center.

All three were arrested Friday after personnel from the city's police, fire and Public Works Department combed the campus for five hours looking for explosives. Staff from Atascadero State Hospital, state parks, Sheriff's Department and the school district also took part.

No explosives were found, and Atascadero Police Chief John Couch said Wednesday he thought the false alarm was made to disrupt the school and empty classrooms.

"I think their motivation was more of a practical joke. ..." Couch said. "I don't think they realized the scope of what they were doing -- the expense involved and the people put into it."

Couch said about 90 people -- and two bomb-sniffing dogs from Hearst Castle -- were involved in the search for explosives. Thirty-seven of them were city employees, most taken away from their normal duties.

"When something like this is done as a malicious act, I think there's a consequence that should go with that beyond criminal consequences," Couch said. "I'm sure taxpayers, when they saw all the people coming to work on this, were wondering, 'Who's paying for this?' Well, they are."

According to police, a phone call was made to the school around 11:40 a.m. Friday, and a male voice told the staff member who answered that several bombs had been placed around the campus. The caller said he would detonate the bombs if money was not left for him at a local elementary school.

Within six minutes, school staff had evacuated students and staff to the football field and later to Atascadero Junior High School. Crews then spent five hours combing the campus.

Police identified two of the suspects as Atascadero High School students, and one as being enrolled in the Atascadero Unified School District's independent study program.

Their names are not being released because they are minors.

Atascadero High School Principal Kim Spinks said she expects to recommend the two students from her school be expelled. But Stecher, the superintendent, said there was no recommendation as of Wednesday.

"Discipline is still being considered at this time," he said. "We're waiting to get all the information from all the different agencies. We're making sure we're guaranteeing the rights of the students."