Bomb threat to Hilton schools turns out to be a hoax; district leader decries 'hate crime'
Schools in Hilton were evacuated Wednesday and all after-school events canceled after an email threat of pipe bombs being placed in the district’s buildings.
Monroe County Sheriff’s deputies searched the buildings and didn’t find any bombs. Schools will reopen Thursday with an added law enforcement presence “out of an abundance of caution,” district officials said.
The email went to various media outlets and was relayed to the district and authorities. The email raised objections about a LGBTQ-themed library book that the sender thought was problematic for students as the reason for allegedly placing bombs in their schools. Students evacuated to buses parked a distance from their schools while waiting to be taken home.
In a statement, the district said it would have counselors on hand as students return, and it provided parents with information to help them talk to students about the day.
“These situations are horrible. And I did understand how the parents felt,” said Monroe County Sheriff Capt. Pat Rojas, his words choked with emotion. “They were rushing to the school, and they wanted to see their children safe.”
More than 5,000 students and employees were sent home. Local investigators are working to determine where the email originated and reaching out to federal authorities for assistance.
“We came here as fast as we could to determine whether this threat was real or not. I’m glad that it wasn’t,” Rojas said. “I’m glad we were able to get the students reunited with their families. I’m a parent. I totally understand, you get a call or a text from a school district that says, ‘There might be a bomb.’ Yeah, you are going to want to come here quick.”
A local group was planning to meet Wednesday evening about the book referenced in the email, “This Book is Gay,” and getting it removed from the high school library. Hilton schools Superintendent Casey Kosiorek said the book was purchased in 2015, has been checked out twice since, and currently is checked out to another district, which is evaluating whether to add the book to its library.
“Absolutely I see it as a hate crime,” Kosiorek said of the bomb threat, while deferring to law enforcement for the legal determination.
“We put a lot of people at risk today,” the superintendent continued, visibly upset as he spoke about the impact on schoolchildren, including his own. "They come to school every day and all they want to do is learn. And now they have been disrupted. Their social-emotional health has been put in a place now where parents are having conversations with their children tonight about, ‘What does it mean when someone is going to bomb a school?’
“It’s absolutely irresponsible. And it should not be tolerated.”
The Hilton case is not unique. A similar email hoax back in December targeted California’s Capistrano Unified School south of Los Angeles. No bombs were found and no schools evacuated.