Students and teachers wait for instructions while emergency personel check the high school's main building for a bomb.
A bomb threat forced students to evacuate Tucumcari High School for about 90 minutes on Tuesday, but no bomb was found and students were back in class by 11:45 a.m.
Tucumcari High School Principal Gary Salazar made the decision to evacuate students and staff about 10:15 a.m. Tuesday after a threatening note was left on a teacher’s desk.
“Part of the contents of the note said, ‘It’s time for people to pay, and that means a bomb,’” said Salazar, who said this is the first bomb threat he’s seen in about six years.
Brianna Salazar, a student who is no relation to the principal, said students filed out into the parking lot. She said the students had no idea at first why they were asked to evacuate.
“Mr. Salazar came over the intercom and told us to evacuate the building and go in an orderly fashion,” she said.
Students milled around outside the school shortly after the evacuation, talking casually among themselves. After Rattler Gym was deemed safe by officials, students were moved to the gym to wait, while Tucumcari police and fire officials searched the main building.
Police and fire department officials searched hall by hall and room by room and then called teachers in to oversee the search of their rooms.
Police Chief Mark Radosevich said nothing out of the ordinary was found, so the bomb-sniffing dogs that could have been called in from Cannon Air Force Base were not necessary.
Radosevich said the incident is being investigated as a criminal matter.
“I’m sure we will be interviewing some students and teachers,” he said. “We have no suspect now. What a potential suspect would be charged with depends on whether that person is 16 or 18. We would take a look at many factors before we would decide what charges to bring.”
Sgt. Andy Baldridge of the New Mexico State Police, who responded to the school’s call, said that an adult charged with making a bomb scare faces a fourth degree felony, a crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Juveniles would be charged with the same crime, but judges have more leeway when it comes to sentencing, he said.
If the culprit is found to be a student, that student will also face punishment determined by the school board, which could include expulsion, Salazar said.
Assistant Superintendent Sonia Raftery said she was proud of the orderly evacuation.
“When Mr. Salazar called me and said he was evacuating the high school, I told myself, ‘We’ve got a procedure so we must follow that procedure.’”
Radosevich agreed the evacuation was orderly and timely.
“We were able to set up a staging area immediately, get these kids evacuated smoothly and begin the search of the building.” he said.