2011-01-14 / Front Page

Bomb hoax leads to lockdown at MHS

By Scott Tittrington moorpark@theacorn.com

Chris Starks knew he would face his share of challenging dilemmas when he took over as the new school resource officer for the Moorpark Unified School District last fall.

The Moorpark Police deputy did not imagine a bomb scare at Moorpark High School would be on that list.

Starks found himself at ground zero Tuesday morning upon the discovery by two school custodians of a suspicious device near the school’s performing arts center.

One look at the item in question— a rusty digital timer the size of an egg—and the subsequent revelation nearby of a white plastic object protruding from the ground with electrical wires coming out of the top of it, and Starks had no hesitation about putting the school on high alert. The result was a 90-minute evacuation of four buildings, a campus-wide lockdown, and a cavalry of deputies coming aboard to diffuse the potentially explosive situation.

“You see components of a bomb like that . . . we don’t take any chances, especially at a school, or any place where we see something like that,” Starks said.

Following the arrival of a bomb technician from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, the suspicious device was disabled using a specialized water cannon known as a pan disrupter. With the object safely blown into hundreds of little pieces, Moorpark Police lifted the evacuation and students returned to their classes.

“Our students were extremely well-behaved,” said Principal Jason Peplinski less than an hour after the all-clear was given. “Our staff enacted our lockdown procedure very well. They are to be commended for that.

“I don’t think anybody leapt to conclusions, but our first priority is to keep students safe. We’re glad that we took the steps we did.”

The students’ safety ensured, Moorpark Police immediately shifted into investigation mode. The preliminary finding? A bomb hoax.

“He (the bomb technician) said it was something that looked like an improvised explosive device, but there was no explosive compound in it,” said Senior Dep. Bob Berger, public information officer for the Moorpark Police.

Now, investigators must find out who was responsible for it, and see if they can piece together a timeline for the device’s arrival on campus.

“I’ll talk to students and see if anyone saw anything unusual,” said Starks, who also plans to analyze video captured by oncampus cameras. “We just have to sit down and review them and go through them all and see if there’s anything suspicious on them.

“With the rust that was on that (timing device), it could have been there any time from a week to a month.”

While Starks heads up the oncampus end of the investigation, members of the VCSD bomb unit will continue a forensic analysis of the device to see if the actual components yield any clues.

Should a suspect be identified, he or she would likely face felony charges for placing a hoax bomb, as spelled out in the California penal code.

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