South Carolina college campus evacuated after bomb threat

Feb. 26, 2009
Caller claims bomb was planted in campus building

Feb. 25--More than 3,000 Aiken Technical College students and faculty members were evacuated from campus Tuesday after school security reported that a male caller claimed a bomb had been planted in the health and science building.

Moments after the 11:30 a.m. phone threat was made, the Aiken County Sheriff's Office was notified and all afternoon classes were canceled, said Tom Slizewski, the school spokesperson said.

Students and non-essential employees were asked to leave, e-mails were sent to each department and administrative assistants went from classroom to classroom as law enforcement explosive specialists responded.

Initially, there was some chaos in the school.

Nursing student Nicole Householder said she and her 16-month-old son were in the bathroom of the 400 building when she first heard a loud boom noise.

"I didn't think anything about it because there are loud noises in that building all the time, but a few seconds later a woman started banging on the bathroom door," said Householder. "She told us to get out of the building, that there had been a shooting and everyone was being evacuated."

When Nicole and her son reached the hallway she saw a girl sobbing hysterically and people running for the exits. "Everybody was trying to get out and everyone was worried because we didn't know what to expect. We were told to get in our cars and go," said Householder.

While rushing to leave, she was thrown to the ground and someone fleeing the building stepped on her hand. Householder later went to Aiken Regional Medical Centers where she was treated for two fractured fingers and a torn ligament. Her wedding ring had to be cut from her finger, and she is in a partial cast and a sling.

"There were four people trying to hurry up and everyone was just trying to get out the door. I fell and someone stepped on my hand," said Householder. "I was so scared, so upset. When we got outside, all I saw was cops swarming everywhere. I didn't talk to the police, I got in my car and tried to leave. It took 25 minutes to get out of the parking lot. They had the whole school blocked off. I was so scared I don't even remember getting in the car."

As students were attempting to get off campus, agents and specialists were headed in.

State troopers directed traffic so that students could get off campus and prevented other students from getting on the property before the buildings were cleared.

School security officers told deputies a "suspicious package," later described as a messenger bag, was spotted in the Health and Science building, and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division agents suited up to recover the bag.

The initial call prompted concern, but once school security reported finding a suspicious bag, Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt said that "took it up a notch" and about eight explosives sniffing dogs began combing the campus.

The rest of the campus was also swept for explosives.

Nothing inside the bag was suspect and nothing else was found, said Lt. Troy Elwell, a spokesperson for the sheriff's office.

"It was filled with school supplies," he said. "We think someone may have accidentally left it when they were evacuating the building."

Some students left keys behind and either left with friends or met in a safe area and waited for the school to be cleared.

By 3:30 p.m., the campus was re-opened.

Richmond County Sheriff's Department deputies, state agents, Wackenhut officials, SRS officials and Aiken County Emergency Services also assisted.

Fire crews from Langley and other surrounding jurisdictions also responded.

School president Dr. Susan Winsor said the officers and dogs went building by building room by room.

Investigators said they will be reviewing school surveillance tapes and still investigating the bogus threat.

Charges will be filed in the case if the caller is identified.

Senior writer Rob Novit contributed to this article.

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