SOUTH PORTLAND — Southern Maine Community College canceled classes for much of Monday after a bomb threat prompted the evacuation of its campuses while bomb-sniffing dogs searched 45 buildings over 80 acres.
No bombs were found.
“We evacuated all our locations out of an abundance of caution,” said SMCC President Ron Cantor shortly after classes resumed at 4 p.m.
“Within the first few minutes, we decided to treat it as credible,” Cantor said. “There was nothing about this that magnified it to a higher level, but we thought it should be treated seriously.”
Police were investigating the threat but had not identified a suspect by late Monday, said Lt. Todd Bernard.
Lt. Robb Couture, spokesman for the South Portland Fire Department, said the college received a phone call at 8:42 a.m. saying there were three bombs on campus. Authorities could not trace the call and the caller disguised his voice, he said. The caller did not indicate specific locations or detonation times.
Cantor and college security, in consultation with South Portland police, decided that the threat warranted an evacuation of SMCC’s three campuses, in South Portland, Brunswick and Bath, which had a total of about 2,000 students attending classes Monday morning.
Eight teams of bomb-sniffing dogs searched campus buildings and around cars parked in school lots, but found nothing, Couture said.
A canine team with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI joined in the response.
Students were alerted to the evacuation by the school’s security staff and its Citywatch system, which notifies students by text, telephone call and email when there is a campus emergency.
The alert said only that the college was being evacuated because of an emergency. It did not specify a bomb threat.
News of the evacuation spread beyond Greater Portland, drawing inquiries from out-of-state media and worried phone calls from parents.
While authorities said the decision to evacuate was made quickly, many students said they didn’t become aware of it until about 10 a.m.
Students’ efforts to leave the South Portland campus were slowed because only two roads — Broadway and Fort Road — lead away from the oceanfront campus, and both of them had traffic tie-ups.
Some students complained that they couldn’t leave the area quickly, but police and school officials said the students at that point were well away from campus and would have been in no danger.
Anthony Oryem, one of the many students who gathered on the sidewalk in front of the campus center Monday morning, said he arrived for his 9 a.m. class and found a note on the door announcing it was canceled.
At his 10 a.m. class, a student told him that there had been a bomb threat, and that the campus was being evacuated. “Officers with the South Portland police with dogs were searching the buildings,” said Oryem.
Jill Shapiro pulled up to a school parking lot at 11 a.m. to pick up her 4-year-old son, Jonah, who attends day care on the campus.
“I didn’t know what happened. When I heard that this was a bomb threat, I felt better,” she said, because she had feared a more serious emergency.
Shapiro said she got a phone call from the day-care center saying that the program had been canceled because of the evacuation, and that the children had been moved to another building. “I just flew over here,” she said.
At lunchtime, many students who live in Spring Point Hall were waiting in the gymnasium. They cheered when they were allowed back into their dorm rooms just after noon.
Chelsea Gaudet of Mexico, Maine, said she was told to evacuate immediately without grabbing her belongings. “Our homework was left in that building and I have a ton due in the morning,” she said.
The bomb threat, coming at the start of the school’s winter carnival, forced the postponement of snow sculpting and a dodgeball tournament, Gaudet said.
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: