Student arrested after causing bomb scare at Brownell

Anxious parents line up outside the administrative office at Brownell Middle School to sign their students out of class for the rest of the day after a bomb threat initiated an evacuation of the entire school. 

Gilroy police officers have arrested a 13-year-old male student for allegedly transmitting bomb threats over Brownell Middle School’s radio frequency Tuesday.

The case will be sent to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office and Probation Department for review, according to GPD Sgt. Chad Gallacinao. 

“As a part of the case, it’s possible that through the court process the parents of the minor may be responsible for paying restitution to the police department for the staff time that was incurred for the response, and possibly to the school district for the time its staff spent on the response,” Gallacinao added. “It’s not going to be cheap.”

Debbie Flores, superintendent of the Gilroy Unified School District, said GUSD is working closely with the GPD on this case.

“We will take whatever actions necessary to ensure that the individuals involved in the bomb threat are held responsible for their actions,” said Flores Wendesday.

The district plans on pressing charges and “initiating the expulsion process,” Flores confirmed.

As for who broke into one of the classrooms at Brownell a couple weeks ago and stole a school-owned radio, Gallacinao said that part of the investigation is still ongoing. The student who was taken into custody Wednesday was only arrested for allegedly making the bomb threats, according to Gallacinao.

More than 700 students, teachers and staff dotted the grassy recreation field around 11 a.m. Tuesday at the school, which is located in the middle of Gilroy on 7800 Carmel St.

After receiving emergency email alerts, phone calls or hearing the news from other parents, dozens of concerned adults began to arrive and pace the sidewalk along Carmel Street with cell phones in hand. Others swamped Brownell’s main administration office, frustrated and searching for more answers.

“There’s a lot of confusion and upset parents,” said parent Tanya Young. “At junior highs, rumors spread. So it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not.”

Young rushed to her daughter’s school after receiving a mass voicemail sent by Brownell Vice Principal Kristen Shouse. The message explained to parents that “there’s been a bomb threat, and the children are safe,” said Young.

Gallacinao said officers received a call at 10:39 a.m. Tuesday indicating that “somehow, a student obtained one of the schools’ portable radios and began to make some unfavorable comments regarding some staff members, and made reference to a bomb on the campus of Brownell.”

Shouse said Brownell filed a police report a couple weeks ago after an unknown suspect broke into one of its classrooms and stole a radio.

Tuesday was the first time since the break-in that school staff heard voice traffic coming in via the stolen radio, according to Shouse.

 “We absolutely plan to file charges,” she said Tuesday.

Six police officers and several support staff from the City of Gilroy responded to the threat. The entire school was evacuated, several residential roads in the area were barricaded and the county bomb squad was notified and put on standby as a precaution, according to Gallacinao. GPD officers conducted a complete sweep of the entire Brownell campus to ensure there were no bombs or any explosive devices on or near school grounds.

Sal Tomasello – the longtime principal of Ascension Solorsano Middle School who retired last year – was at the helm amid today’s chaos, doling instructions over the intercom system to students, teachers and parents. Tomasello is temporarily helping out during the absence of Brownell Principal Greg Camacho-Light.

Although GPD officers deemed Brownell safe after inspecting the campus for more than an hour, a number of parents lined up outside the administrative office to sign their children out of school for the rest of the day. Young noticed that every parent wrote “bomb threat” as the reason for removing their child from class.

“They just said it was safe, but the kids are scared and want to be picked up,” said one concerned parent who did not want to give his name. “I’m going to pick my daughter up and take her to get ice cream and just relax for the rest of the day.”

Another student who was released from class jogged up to her father and asked him for more information about the incident. “I don’t know,” he said, giving her a hug. “But I’d like to talk to the parents of the kids that called this in.”

When Brownell parent Desiree Dominguez caught wind of a possible bomb threat at her daughter’s school, “my heart just started racing,” she said, standing on the sidewalk near the recreation field. “That’s my child in there…she wants to go home with me, so I know she’s a little nervous.”

Overall, Shouse estimates less than 100 families opted to pull their children out of school for the rest of the day. After the craziness subsided and students were back in their seats, Shouse and Tomasello made the rounds to every classroom and explained to students what happened.

“We’re always going to err on the side of caution for these type of things being potential threats, instead of waiting for some of those unfortunate realities that have happened out there,” said Shouse.

She acknowledged the inconvenience for parents who had to wait in line as administrative personnel made sure parents’ identification correlated with their children’s emergency contact information. However, Shouse maintains safety protocol has to be followed.

“I understand it was frustrating to some of our parents, but at the same time it was necessary to make sure we were checking (students) out properly,” said Shouse.

She also noted that a number of parents congratulated Brownell on its efficiency of getting the critical information out so quickly.

All of Brownell’s radios were collected Tuesday. Staff will be re-issued new radios on new frequencies, “so we won’t have any more incidents,” said Shouse.

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