Arrest Made After 4 False Bomb Threats at Buchholz High School

Four bomb threats were made in less than three weeks, leading to evacuations and significant responses from local law enforcement.
Published: September 14, 2021

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Students at Buccholz High School were evacuated four times in less than three weeks due to a series of false bomb threats, leading to an investigation by local law enforcement and a subsequent arrest.

On Aug. 19, the school received its first bomb threat. “Everybody was running to their cars; people almost crashed into each other,” junior Cassandra Jones told The Alligator. “It was so bad … I was freaking out.”

The second and third threats were made on Sept. 1 and 2. By the fourth threat on Sept. 7, Jones said students had become more unconcerned. “It’s kind of like ‘boy cries wolf’ situation,” she said. “My classmates, they literally are just like, ‘Oh, OK. I leave and go home now.’”

Following each threat, the school — which is the largest public high school in Alachua County with over 2,200 students — was evacuated, leading to work disruption for parents and missed class time for students and teachers. The sweeps by law enforcement each took more than an hour but the campus was deemed clear for return after no evidence of explosive devices were found.

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Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) Public Information Officer Lt. Kaley Behl said the bogus threats are wasting county, state and federal resources. ACSO is leading the investigation but is using various resources made available to them from surrounding departments, including the FBI.

Anywhere from nine to 21 officers were sent to the school for each threat, in addition to the school board’s resources, bus drivers and bomb canines.

“It affects everyone when you have bus drivers trying to get students out of there, direct traffic control to get people evacuated in an appropriate manner, a safe and effective manner,” she continued. “And again all the resources that go into just doing the investigation and execution of it.”

On Sept. 13, ACSO announced an arrest had been made in connection with the threats, reports CBS. Student Preston Powers, 17, has been charged with possession of cocaine, making false bomb threats, and using a two-way communication device to commit a felony. A false bomb threat is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to submit tips anonymously or on record to Alachua County Crime Stoppers at 1+(352)-372-STOP for up to a $1,000 reward.

This isn’t the first time a string of bomb threats has plagued the school. In 2016, a 14-year-old Buchholz student made three false bomb threats. According to Behl, the student was charged with three felony counts, had to pay approximately $8,000 in restitution fees, and perform community service.

Parent Voices Concerns of School Security

Parent Deborah Lee Jones told The Alligator that she is concerned by the safety protocols put in place at the school. Jones, who recently moved her family to the Gainesville area from Orange County, Calif., said she noticed a lack of security after enrolling her son at Buccholz.

“We walked right into open double doors, and we walked around that mall area for about five minutes looking for the office,” she said. “No one stopped us. No one asked us anything. I never saw a police officer.”

Jones said her son has had to miss additional days due to a possible COVID-19 exposure. When she went to pick him up at school to quarantine at home, she said she was able to walk right into the building.

“I could have gone and sat in a classroom if I wanted. I don’t think anybody would’ve stopped me.”

Jones also said she is concerned about the communication between the school’s administration and the community, particularly for parents who may not be able to be as active in their student’s schooling due to job obligations.

“The principal needs to address the community,” she said. “The school board needs to address the community. Something needs to be put in place for these kids so that they don’t continue to miss all this learning.”

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