Parents waited outside Collegiate Academy at Weis Middle School in Galveston for hours Thursday for some word from school officials about why the Stewart Road campus was hurriedly evacuated at midday.
Students from the school were taken from the building and bused off to other schools, while police dogs sniffed and drones flew overhead in response to an anonymous bomb threat called in to the school.
Police said they found no sign of a bomb during the search.
At about 5 p.m. Thursday, the Galveston Police Department released more information about the threat.
A man called the school and the district’s police department at about 11:30 a.m and said there were several explosives placed on school grounds, police said. The man said he would detonate the explosives, police said.
The campus was declared clear around at about 2:45 p.m.
Police said negotiators made contact with the man during the incident but that he had not been identified or located as of Thursday afternoon.
Some parents, meanwhile, were left scratching their heads about what they called a lack of communication from the district as the incident was unfolding.
“I think Galveston ISD could do better about the communications,” said Tameeka Walker, who sat with a group of parents on a utility box across the street from the school about 1:30 p.m. “They communicate about what they want to, but this is something serious.”
Walker, who has a 12-year-old child at the school, said she was inside the school’s administration office when the phone rang and someone apparently uttered the threat about a bomb.
“There was kind of a panic,” she said. She was rushed out the door of the building as other people began to leave, she said.
“I knew something was wrong,” Walker said, adding that she only learned about where the students were heading by watching buses drive away.
In other emergencies and incidents at the school, Walker had received text messages from the district, she said.
She was surprised she didn’t get any kind of update about the incident at Weis, she said.
Rumors of a bomb threat appeared on social media oon after students were taken out of the building, but the school district didn’t issue a public statement about the incident until about 2 p.m.
Parents were directed to pick up students at the Oppe and Parker elementary schools.
District Superintendent Jerry Gibson, who was in Dallas attending a conference during the incident, said the district would review its response in coming days.
From afar, the evacuation went smoothly, but Gibson acknowledged parents’ complaints about communication.
“Anytime you have a situation like this, we want our students and employees safe,” Gibson said. “That takes priority. We’ve got to get our students out of that area. Unfortunately, while we’re trying to get them moved, we’re not necessarily able to stop and communicate.”
Gibson said he asked the Galveston Police Department to take over the response to the incident and any subsequent investigation.
The city police department has more resources than Galveston ISD’s department, Gibson said.
The school district police department, the Galveston Police Department, the University of Texas Medical Branch Police Department, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Friendswood Police Department, the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Coast Guard all responded to the school within minutes of the report of a threat.
At least a dozen police vehicles were at the scene while the threat was being investigated.
Despite the large police response, the scene at the middle school was less chaotic than the last time rumors of a threat to a Galveston school began circulating among local parents.
In September 2018, months after the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School, rumors of a gun threat and lockdown at Ball High School prompted hundreds of parents to rush there and pull their students out of class for the day.
Coincidentally, the incident happened Thursday at Weis just hours after students and teachers practiced fire drills at the school.
Walker and other parents who watched the evacuation said there didn’t appear to be any panic or concern among the students who boarded buses for other campuses.
“They probably thought it was a drill,” Walker said.
After the students were taken out of the school, police officers used dogs and a drone to search the campus. Traffic was directed away from Stewart Road as the campus was cleared.
Gibson and school board trustees were out of town Thursday.
They were attending a joint meeting of the Texas Association of School Administrators and the Texas Association of Schools Boards in Dallas.
Police asked anyone with information about the hoax to call the Galveston Police Department at 409-765-3762 or Crime Stoppers of Galveston at 409-763-8477.