Students in the Windham-Raymond school system were back at school Thursday following a tumultuous three days in which classes were canceled because of threatening emails.

The situation began Monday morning, when Regional School Unit 14 Superintendent Sandy Prince checked his email and found a message from an unknown source vowing to do harm to students and staff.

Windham Middle School Principal Charlie Haddock had received a similar email. Prince immediately rang School Resource Officer Jeff Smith, who called the police and mobilized the school’s emergency response system, automatically locking the entrances to all district schools. Students and staff were told to clear the halls, and continue “business as usual” activities.

But to Kendra Powers, 13, an eighth-grader at Windham Middle School, it was clear something was up.

“They just said, ‘Get the kids to the homerooms as soon as possible,’ and I was like, ‘Yep, there’s something wrong,’” Powers said.

The middle school and Windham High School were quickly evacuated. As Powers was leaving school, she overheard a teacher describe the reason for the emergency measures.

“When we were walking out of the building I think I heard one of the teachers say, ‘A planned bombing and a planned gun shooting,’ ” Powers recalled.

The elementary schools were evacuated last. For the next three days, Powers and the rest of the school district’s 3,300 students stayed home – an unprecedented measure for the district. Finally, on Wednesday morning, school officials and police announced in a press conference that school would resume Thursday because a suspect had been arrested – a 16-year-old Windham male who had once attended RSU 14 schools.

As of Wednesday afternoon, law enforcement and school administrators had not released the name of the suspect whose threats, they say, threw the entire school district into chaos for days. Following an investigation by Windham police and the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit that led to the arrest, the officials said they were convinced that the threat to district staff and students was over and that it was safe to return to school.

The teenager has been charged with eight counts of terrorizing, a Class C felony that can result in up to five years of jail time – one charge for each of the district schools affected. The specific charge is terrorizing “to cause evacuation of a building.”

According to Windham police Lt. James Boudreau, the suspect was arrested at his family’s Windham home on Sunday night and transferred to Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland. The suspect did not resist arrest, Boudreau said. Boudreau said the suspect is believed to have acted alone in sending the emails to Prince and Haddock. He declined to comment on whether any weapons had been found in the home.

“The emails were not very long,” Boudreau said. “There was a reference to a weapon. There wasn’t a reference to the school. Initially we weren’t even certain that it was directed at the RSU 14, because there was nothing in the body of the email that gave us that indication.

“However, we felt that because they had been sent to two different school officials, Mr. Prince and one of the principals at the middle school, we felt we had to act on the fact that this was not an isolated incident where somebody was just sending out a hoax,” Boudreau added. “We felt that there may have been more to that, that we needed to take that seriously.”

Boudreau declined to comment more specifically on the content of the emails, but said that they justified shutting down the school system until the suspect had been apprehended.

“Initially, we didn’t know who we were dealing with, so we didn’t know how serious to take the wording in the threat, of whether or not it might occur on a second or third day,” Boudreau said. “I think the decision not to bring the schools back together yesterday and today were based in part because, unlike a bomb threat, where you can go in and you can ascertain there is nothing there, we still had the threat out there until we were able to go a little further and determine the source.”

According to Smith, no bomb search was conducted. Smith said the last time there was an evacuation at the high school was in 2006, when a student left a note with a bomb threat and bomb-sniffing dogs searched the school. In 2004, a man was apprehended at a residence across from the main entrance to the high school after shooting several rounds from a second-floor window.

Smith said the district, which underwent several security upgrades to entrances after the Newtown school shooting in Connecticut two years ago, would not be implementing any new, permanent security measures in response to the episode. At the Wednesday press conference, Prince said that a law enforcement officer would be present at each district school until the end of the week.

“The threat is now gone, behind us, and school will open tomorrow,” Prince said Wednesday. “We will do whatever it takes to make sure that this transition goes exceptionally well.”

Students will return to school for just two days before the start of Christmas vacation.

The scare left its mark on the community this week.

Raymond Town Manager Don Willard said he heard about the evacuation through an automated voice mail from the school district. Willard’s son, Holden, is a sophomore at Windham High School.

“It was quite a shocking turn of events, I would say,” Willard said. “I have heard a lot of people concerned about it.”

Lorrie Small, owner of Bright Beginnings Daycare in Raymond, said that her daytime numbers had doubled Tuesday as six students from Raymond Elementary School who usually come after school showed up for the entire day.

Small said the children seemed happy, while their parents seemed satisfied with the district’s handling of the situation.

“Everyone is kind of just wondering what’s going on,” Small said. “A lot of people are very, very pleased at the quick response, the schools getting the kids home safely. I haven’t heard one negative thing.”

Windham public officials said that students did not appear to spend much time in public buildings during their days off. Many district students often hang out at the Windham Public Library, according to the library director, Jen Alvino. Not this week, she said.

“I would actually say we’ve been quieter without the students being on campus,” Alvino said. “I have a sightline over to the school campus, and so I saw all the parents coming in to pick up the kids. I think if they had been walking they would have come over here.

“I think the kids went home and stayed there for the last couple of days,” Alvino added.

Brian Ross, Windham’s director of Parks and Recreation, said he had opened the Town Hall Gym and notified the district that students could go there Tuesday. Due to low attendance, the town did not open the gym Wednesday.

“The plan was to have the gym open if kids thought they were going to be left home without anyone to watch them,” Ross said. “No one really came.”

On Monday morning, Peter Small was attempting to pick up his two children from the Windham Primary School.

“I feel fine,” Small said. “RSU 14 has been great with communication, with the security protocols. I think they’ll handle it really, really well.”

While Small was waiting in line, Smith, the school resource officer, was also posted at the elementary school, watching as students and their parents filed out.

“I just stood there for peace of mind because there was no specific threat to a specific school,” Smith said. “The parents were just unbelievably calm.”

Windham Police Chief Richard Lewsen, left, and Lt. Jim Boudreau speak with reporters at a press conference held at Windham High School Wednesday morning. Superintendent Sandy Prince can be seen in the background. After two days of investigating email threats received by Regional School Unit 14 administrators Monday, the Windham Police Department and the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit made an arrest Tuesday night.  In response to the threats, parents picked up their children early from Windham Elementary School Monday morning.  Parent escort


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