A bomb threat called into Hastings Public Schools at 11:30 a.m. Thursday prompted administrators at Zion Lutheran School to dismiss students for the day at about 1 p.m.
“We evacuated based on the protocol that we have in our emergency handbook,” said the Rev. Paul Warneke, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church and religion teacher at the school. “We weren’t really sure what to do when we got the call from the police. We decided to follow what our handbook says.
“I think that if we had to do it over again, I think we would do the same thing.”
Warneke said school officials at Zion contacted parents to pick up the school’s approximately 60 students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade early but didn’t give a reason for the early dismissal.
“We didn’t tell people on the phone that we had a bomb threat,” he said. “We didn’t want to create a panic. We checked the building and did not find anything out of the ordinary.”
Police Chief Pete Kortum said no specific school was mentioned when the call was made about the threat, which is why other schools in Hastings were contacted, including Zion Lutheran, Hastings Catholic Schools and the Adams Central school district.
Kortum said the police department shared details about the threat, including a specific time given by the caller, but left it up to school officials as far as what action to take.
“Those decisions are not made by us,” he said.
Hastings Superintendent Craig Kautz said the call came into the district office’s main number at 11:30 a.m. and the caller wanted to speak with someone about transferring into the district from out of Nebraska.
Once the call was transferred to a staff member knowledgeable with that information, Kautz said that a teenage boy told the staff member that there was “bomb in the school” and it was set to explode at 2 p.m.
Kautz said the Hastings Police Department was contacted immediately. He said that both law enforcement officials and district administrators determined that there was no need to evacuate the district’s 10 buildings based on the contents of the phone call.
The call was identified as coming from Lincoln, Kautz said, where students are on spring break. He said the staff member who took the call indicated that it was a teenage boy on the line and could hear other teenagers in the background.
“We know there was background noise that made us pretty much believe it was a horrible prank,” he said.
At about 2:30 p.m., the district posted a message on its Facebook page notifying parents, patrons and other followers of the page about the incident.
Within two hour’s time, there were more than 100 comments on the page, many of them chastising the district for choosing not to evacuate the buildings and send students home.
Kautz said school officials and police department took the situation “very seriously.”
He said that given the nature of the call and the suspicion from the beginning that this was not a real threat and the propensity of people to panic, he believes the district did the right thing.
“This was a very long afternoon, one in which law enforcement said we handled appropriately,” Kautz said. “If law enforcement officials can find the perpetrator, I would hope the perpetrator would be in serious trouble because we don’t ignore or take these things lightly.”
The incident is still under investigation by Hastings police. The school’s administration also will review the actions taken by staff.