But What If The Threats Were Real?
How a Month of Bomb Threats Impacts Students at South Eugene High School
Editor’s Note: The Eugene School District 4J and Eugene Education Association did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
There have been four swatting attempts in the form of bomb threats called into South Eugene High School in as many weeks.
The first happened on Wednesday, May 3; the second exactly a week after on May 10; the third on Tuesday, May 16; and the fourth on Wednesday, May 24. All were ruled to be hoaxes by law enforcement. The four bomb threats were all reportedly delivered via robocall, but according to students and parents, the school district’s response to the incidents have been anything but consistent.
The school year had been going relatively normal for SEHS freshman Kris Cailteux and sophomore Joey Helton.
It’s been a great year for me!,” Kris Caliteux said. “My school is a great community and everybody here is so nice.”
Joey Helton echoed that sentiment, despite some struggles with mental health that affected their attendance throughout the year.
“My teachers have been helpful for the most part and I have a very supportive community here,” they said. In particular, Helton has enjoyed the school’s performing arts program and said “it brings me a lot of joy when nothing else does.”
Then things changed on May 3. That morning, Central Lane 911 received a call saying that there was a bomb on campus.
Kris was in her English class when the fire alarm started going off.
“I thought it was just a fire drill because my school has a lot of those every month, so I didn’t grab any of my personal belongings,” she said. “My class went out to a field in front of our school and we stood there for about 10 minutes, and then our teachers told us to sit down because it would be awhile.“
While outside, Kris said she heard others “talking about how the bomb squad was in a parking lot [nearby] and that there was apparently a bomb inside of our school.”
Shortly thereafter, the students were evacuated to the Moshofsky Center at the University of Oregon campus.
“As far as I knew, the bomb squad wasn’t just a threat, I genuinely thought it was real and I was horrified,” she said, adding that she had to use a friend’s phone to call her mother to be picked up.
Her mother, Amanda Cailteux, was just as horrified as a parent.
“[The first bomb threat] was scary because of how little information we got from the school,” she said. “What was printed in local papers was copied and pasted from the alerts we were getting from the schools while it was happening.”
Kris said she didn’t find out it was a hoax until that night.
Helton was sick and stayed home that day.
“I was really worried, I called a bunch of my friends to make sure they were okay,” Helton said. “I was thankful I was at home but, in all honesty, I was scared for my friends’ lives.”
Adding to the already stressful and scary situation was a lack of communication.
“And being that this was the first of many threats, nothing was being clarified to the students by staff, admin, or authority,” Helton said. “Lots of rumors and ‘he said, she said’ situations were being spread around about the whole thing.”
The second bomb threat came a week later, on May 10. It again arrived during second period, but this time, it was coupled with an active shooter threat.
“Suddenly someone who works in the office came over the [intercom] and told us that someone in the building had a gun,” Cailteux said. “She told us we were going into lockdown. It was horrifying. We had to lock the door, barricade it even, turn off the lights, and sit quietly in the corner of the room.”
About a half an hour later, “the same person came on over the [intercom] and told us that we had just received a bomb threat,” she said. Students were told to grab their belongings, leave the building, and meet at the football field behind the school.
Helton said they “genuinely started to worry” when the school was told that they would be locking down.
“I began to be paranoid that I would hear gunshots down the hallway or something,” they said. “Our teacher even walked us through the steps of barricading ourselves in the classroom if the supposed shooter came near our wing of the building.”
It was about an hour later that everyone evacuated the school onto the football field. There, many gathered underneath the bleachers, still studying for tests or doing homework, when they were told that school would be dismissed for the day. Students wouldn’t be bussed to the Moshofsky Center again. Those with cars drove home while some that needed to be picked up were told to go to Kidsports across the street. Many just walked away in various directions.
For some parents, the confusion led to frustration and anger.
“Our daughter didn’t have her phone on her since she was in class so when the alarm sounded and all the students went outside [so] she had no way to contact us directly,” Amanda Cailteux said. “This week there was a lot more anger, from me personally, at having to go through it all again.”
Picking up her daughter wasn’t as strict as it was the week prior where “they had to make visual contact with the parent to allow them to leave.” This time, she said “there was no school-assigned adult escorting the students in safe groups or anything. They just walked off the field, through the pathway off the campus and then… wherever.”
“[It seemed] like the kids were told ‘okay you can go’ today and that was it,” she said. “Kids walked off in every direction once they hit the sidewalks and only kids whose parents were there already or were on the way bothered to make it to [Kidsports].”
What’s worse, a pattern had been established. After the second threat, many began to expect that there would be a third threat.
On Tuesday, May 16th, those expectations were fulfilled–Central Lane 911 received a bomb threat around the same time as the previous two.
“I don’t think anybody was really expecting it to be [on a Tuesday],” Helton said, adding that “seeing as there is a pattern, everyone has been taking it far less seriously each time.”
That feeling appears to have spread upwards to the administration as, following a brief evacuation so that EPD could clear the school, students were told to go back to their classrooms. Those that didn’t would face potential consequences–including being marked for “early departure.”
“It’s a bit dystopian to just go straight back to your history class where they’re teaching you lessons about atomic weapons right after your school just suffered its [third] bomb threat,” Helton said.
One SEHS student tweeted “the way we all went back to classes smh.”
The recurring threats and inconsistent responses have led some students at the school to become increasingly nonchalant.
“With each occurrence, I’ve seen less and less students who actually treat it like it could be real,” said Helton. “[On May 16], plenty of students just up and left the building as soon as they heard the announcement. It makes me wonder that if there were a real bomb, would some die because they didn’t take it seriously?”
Not all students were unhappy with having to go back to class, though. Cailteux said she enjoys being at school and that “it was nice getting to go back to class instead of having to go home.”
Leaving, she said, has been a detriment. “Having to go home and have nothing to do was really boring the first two times,” Cailteux said, adding that “having to leave early also took away a lot of my class work time.”
For parent Amanda Cailteux, there is a growing disconnect between the high school and the families of its students. During the third threat, she said that all three messages from the school—there’s a threat, evacuation, and all clear—within a ten minute time frame and that, by the time she’s reached out to her daughter, they had already been outside for nearly half an hour.
In the end, she says she’s exasperated. “I’m sick of my kid missing classes but also very worried by how quickly everyone seems to [become] numb and dismissive to the threats.”
On May 17, the Eugene School Board held their regular meeting. Naturally, the recurring threats were a significant point of discussion.
The meeting began with reports from each of the schools’ student representatives and, when it came time for SEHS, the speaker gave an overview of the weeks-long threats.
Superintendent Andy Dey followed the student representatives and addressed the continued threats.
“I cannot overstate the impact incidents such as these have on our students, our staff, families, and our community at-large,” he said. “In addition to the loss of learning and teaching time, and resulting emotional toll these events have on our school community, these students, in particular, these teachers, in particular, there are very real resource costs associated with responding to such events.”
Dey iterated the district’s gratitude and support of both local and federal law enforcement for investigation into the threats and said that “it has been shared that their investigation has proven fruitful as they are narrowing-in on likely sources, locally, who have connected with national individuals who initiate the threatening calls.”
In addition, he said that the school district is working with EPD and Crime Stoppers to offer a reward for information about the threats but did not say what the reward was. It has since been disclosed that the reward is for $2,500.
The superintendent’s promises were tested just one short week later, when a fourth threat was delivered around 9:30 a.m. that mimicked that of the second threat: an initial call about a male with a shotgun in a bathroom followed by a bomb threat just moments later. The school went into a lights-off lockdown and lasted until about 11:20 a.m. with an “all clear” announced over the intercom.
Students were allowed to take a break before returning to class.