CESJDS receives bomb threat, no explosive found


photo courtesy of Ethan Kulp

News networks gather outside of CESJDS to report on Monday’s bomb threat.

On Monday, Feb. 27, at 9:22 a.m., CESJDS received an automated bomb threat over the phone. After a police investigation, no evidence of any explosive device was found and school activities were not disrupted.

High School Principal and Associate Head of School Marc Lindner was informed of the threat as he walked through the main office just after the threat was called in. According to Lindner, the message said that there was a bomb in the school.

“It wasn’t very specific at all, so as soon as we heard that, within a couple minutes, I called the police,” Lindner said. “They were here very quickly.”

Calling the police was the first step in JDS’ protocol for incidents like the one Monday morning. The guidelines revolve around cooperation with the police and following their instructions. Lindner said that the school considered evacuating before police came, but did not see an imminent enough threat to mandate immediate evacuation.

“Because it was a recording in this case, and the nature of what was said, [the police] were comfortable to get their first officers here and to start to assess here on site before we decided anything,” Lindner said.

The police came to the school faster than Lindner expected, he said, bringing along bomb-sniffing dogs and bomb detection equipment. The police and dogs swept around the outside of the building, while “a couple” officers and JDS staff looked through the building’s interior for any suspicious signs. Neither the exterior or interior sweepers found anything of note.

Junior Evan Wood came to school late and saw the police and dogs outside. Wood saw around ten police cars and three dogs, on their way from school. Wood was not worried, though. When his mom texted him that there was a bomb threat, “I was like, ‘okay,’” Wood said.

Throughout the incident, the school was in communication with parents by email. Head of School Rabbi Mitchel Malkus sent three emails to parents. First, at 10:03 a.m., he sent an email alerting parents to the threat and the investigation. At 10:26 a.m., he sent a short update, and at 10:57 a.m., he sent a message saying that police gave the “all clear.” Students, however, only found out about the threat from the school when Lindner gave an announcement over the loudspeaker minutes after Malkus sent the “all clear” email.

“Everything is fine, all is good here, and we can proceed through our day without worrying,” Lindner said.

Lindner said that the school did not contact students directly during the investigation because “we didn’t feel like we had enough information to give anything to the students,” even though he acknowledged that “once we sent out an email to the parents … they would probably be in touch with students.”

Lindner was right and students did find out fairly quickly. When junior Emily Nadler learned what was going on, she was very worried even though she knew the school had everyone’s safety as their main priority.

“I had no idea what was going on,” Nadler said. “I was, of course, googling other bomb threats and I saw that other schools were evacuating so I wondered, ‘why aren’t we evacuating? What if the dogs sniffed a bomb and we were in the building?’ I was getting really worried, my palms were sweating, my heart was racing, but then I talked to my parents and they were like, ‘Emily, it’s okay.’”

In his first email, Malkus wrote, “As a precaution, the police will be sweeping the building with dogs and students will be brought to the auditorium.” This course of events, however, did not happen. According to Lindner, when Malkus sent the email, the administration was leaning towards sending students to the theater to allow police to search the hallways without disturbing students and staff. They decided against it, though, when police came and saw no need to conduct a full search with dogs and many officers. Malkus found it important to update parents during the decision-making process, not after, to keep lines of communication open, Lindner said.

In the end, over the course of the threat, there was no disruption to the normal school day and students proceeded as they would any other day. Some other Jewish day schools and community centers around the country, however, evacuated. Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax, Va., which did evacuate, was the only other D.C. area institution threatened.

In total, 20 schools and community centers from Alabama to New York received bomb threats Monday as of 4 p.m. It was the fifth wave of threats in recent months, as Jewish institutions across the country have received similar calls on multiple occasions in recent months, including at the Bender Jewish Community Center in Rockville.

Although threats are becoming increasingly common, Lindner does not expect that the school will institute new security measures. There is already a police presence outside the building, and the school consistently communicates with police and with other Jewish organizations about safety. With so much attention devoted to a rise in anti-Semitism and with many threats already being called into institutions around the country, Lindner was not shocked by the call.

“I wish that I was surprised; I’m not all that surprised because of what’s happened around here,” Lindner said, referencing the JCC threat. “Unfortunately, this is something that is going on right now.”