Private school evacuated after bomb discovered

By Michael Davis

The juvenile charged with possession of an explosive device police say he brought to a private Henry County school seemed like any other child, according to his next-door playmate.

Following a search warrant executed at the boy's Locust Grove home, his neighbor and her mother, who asked not to be identified, said they knew the boy, who is being held in the Clayton County Regional Youth Detention Center, for six years.

They said the boy was 14 or 15 years old, and they never heard explosions or saw anything strange from their neighbor's property during that time.

Officials wouldn't speculate about what kind of damage the device would have done if it had exploded, but "any explosive device is a serious explosive device," ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge Gary Orchowski said.

Agents from more than half a dozen local, state and federal agencies, including the U.S. military, descended on the Lake Dow Christian Academy Thursday to dispose of a live bomb found in the school. Agents then searched the home of a child they suspect built the bomb and brought it to school.

During a sweep of the McDonough school, law enforcement officials found the bomb in a classroom facility and components of another bomb in a backpack, Henry County Public Safety Director Michael Turner said. Materials for at least two more bombs were discovered in the home, he added.

An unidentified juvenile was in custody Thursday being interviewed, Turner said, and other children were also being questioned.

"We do have other investigative leads that we're following," he said.

He declined to comment on how long the bomb had been on the campus. He also would not confirm the juvenile's age, but said it would be up to the courts to determine whether to treat the suspect as an adult or a juvenile when charges are brought.

The school's 148 students were evacuated to a church across the street from the school on Lake Dow Road, and no one was injured.

Turner said a teacher at the school found what "appeared to be explosive devices" in a backpack after overhearing conversations among students. "Apparently there's been some conversation among the students over the last day or so about this," Turner said.

He said the teacher took the bag of what turned out to be explosives components outside of the school and alerted authorities at 8:43 Thursday morning. A device later found inside the school was a "live explosive device," he said.

Turner said that the bomb had a triggering device, although it had not been armed. A GBI bomb disposal unit disposed of the bomb at about 10:45 a.m. A gunshot-like sound rang through the mostly residential area.

Turner would not describe what police found at the Higgins Road home in Locust Grove, but said the device found in the school was fairly simple.

"It was not a sophisticated device - it didn't take much to construct it," he said.

Asked how a child might have learned to build a bomb, Turner said, "Unfortunately, the information is readily available in a number of public sources."

Children at the small private school were moved across the street into the McDonough Church of Christ. Lake Dow road was blocked for most of the day as agents swept through the school and the surrounding areas multiple times searching for other bombs. One man who lived near the school was prevented from returning to his home.

In all, three searches of the school and surrounding grounds were conducted by bomb technicians and bomb detection dogs. No other devices were found at the school.

Children at the school, which runs programs for students as young as age 4, were shuttled from the Church of Christ to nearby Heritage Park to be picked up by their parents. Turner said some children of driving age were not allowed to leave in their cars.

Mark White, a parent of three children at the school, rushed to the scene. He said that there had been a gas leak in the school's kitchen recently which had been thought to be a bomb, but was told this was "serious, that it was real."

"I couldn't imagine why anybody would want to do this to anybody," White said.

White called Lake Dow Christian Academy a "fairly strict Baptist school."

Andrew Pote, who was to drive Spanish Club students on a field trip and coaches volleyball for the school, said the school is "like a big family. Everybody knows everybody."

He said he was "shocked" at stopping at a police barricade and learning the news.

Staffers inside the school Thursday evening would not talk to a reporter, but Turner said the school had plans to be open today.

Staff writer Greg Gelpi contributed to this article.