Gardiner Area High School students and staff were sent home and activities were canceled Tuesday after the school received a phone call warning that there was a bomb in the school and threatening that guns would be used.

Police believe the threat is one of dozens also called in to schools in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Delaware and Iowa.

 “At this point in time we believe that the automated phone call the school received was a phishing message that originated in California,” said Gardiner Police Chief James Toman in a statement released by the school department. “All indications lead us to believe this was a widespread hoax.”

School is expected to resume Wednesday as scheduled.

Patricia Hopkins, superintendent of School Administrative District 11, which also includes Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner, said in the release that the school “received a threatening message via phone.” The threat came in around 10:30 a.m. High school staff members and parents were notified by phone, text and email by 10:45 a.m.

“Given the nature of the threat, we decided to dismiss all … students and staff early,” Hopkins wrote.

The students were released to the buses at 10:45 a.m. and all activities were canceled. In an interview, Toman said fewer students than normal were in the building because of midterm examinations. The students were scheduled to be released at 11 a.m., so the threat hastened that by only 15 minutes.

“The students and staff reacted fantastic,” Toman said.

In the statement, Hopkins said the threat claimed bombs were in the building and were set to detonate in 30 minutes.

“The message then stated that in addition to the bombs, firearms would be used after the bombs,” she said in the statement.

She said Gardiner police arrived within minutes to help assess the threat and safely dismiss the staff and students.

“Shortly after noon a team of bomb dogs arrived from the Maine State Police to inspect the building with the Gardiner Police Department and found no evidence of the threat,” the statement said.

Toman said Gardiner police and the Maine Computer Crimes Task Force are investigating the threat. Reuters reported Tuesday that dozens of bomb threats were called in to schools Massachusetts, Delaware and Iowa. The news agency indicated at least 26 schools were affected in New Jersey alone. The schools were searched and no explosives or weapons were found.

Toman said the threat called into Gardiner appears to be connected.

“It was an automated call,” he said.

Toman said he will work with the FBI as it investigates the other complaints.

“Hopefully, with their additional resources, they’ll be able to help us and all the other schools, bring this to a successful resolution and prosecute the individuals responsible for this,” Toman said.

This is the second time in a little more than a month that a threatening incident has disrupted classes at the school. The school was locked down briefly on Dec. 9 and police were called to deal with an out-of-control student.

Nobody was injured and classes resumed after 20 minutes.


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