Students evacuated; devices detonated
By MICHAEL J. FEENEY, Special to the Herald News
Herald News (Passaic County, NJ)
WAYNE, N.J. — Authorities on Wednesday evening were questioning a number of Wayne Valley High School students after removing incendiary devices from school lockers that could have filled the top floor with flames and smoke, police said.
The Passaic County Sheriff's Department Bomb Squad Unit removed four bundles of incendiaries, described as resembling 16 half-sticks of dynamite, from two second-floor lockers, about 20 feet apart, police said. They also recovered a backpack with regular fireworks near the auto shop room on the first floor.
The devices, described as pyrotechnics that have the potential to explode, were destroyed by the county bomb squad with a controlled detonation at a range on Garret Mountain.
"Whether you consider them a smoke bomb, a pyrotechnic or an explosive, it's gun powder, it has a fuse, and it's contained in a locker," county Sheriff Jerry Speziale said. "The amount of smoke and the amount of fire coming from a locker would have overtaken the entire top floor of Wayne Valley High School. It would have been catastrophic. I don't consider this a joke."
County Prosecutor James Avigliano said suspects would be charged with possession of explosive devices and other offenses. If prosecuted as adults, offenders would face penalties of up to 10 years in prison, he said. No one had been arrested as of Wednesday night.
"While this might be thought of by a lot of people as a prank, the ability to have a number of people seriously injured was certainly present in this incident," said Avigliano.
The discovery of the devices just as the last full school day of the year began prompted evacuation of the school's nearly 1,500 students. The school was to reopen today, with finals on a revised schedule to allow students review time lost because of Wednesday's evacuation, said Schools Superintendent Maria Nuccetelli.
Some of the devices were found in a locker that had earlier been vacated by a student Tuesday. The locker apparently had been taken over by someone who put the devices in and then put a lock on the door. The initial student walked by the locker early Wednesday morning, noticed something hanging out of a door vent and notified a school dean, said township police Chief Donald Stouthamer.
School officials notified police around 9:20 a.m. and the fire alarm was set off to evacuate the students to a nearby football field, Stouthamer said. They then were taken to Calvary Temple on Preakness Avenue, just around the corner from the school, until they were released shortly after 1 p.m.
Speziale said the county bomb squad unit went into the school with robots then cut the locks off the first locker and another. Fuses were protruding through the locker vents and could have been ignited with a standard lighter.
The devices were later taken to the Passaic County bomb squad range on Garret Mountain and ignited, causing a number of large fires and smoke, Speziale said.
The remnants were turned over to the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to be investigated, authorities said. It was not immediately known if the devices were commercial in origin or homemade.
Also assisting in the investigation was the Newark office of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, state Homeland Security and numerous state, county and local canine units.
Students were not allowed to leave Calvary Temple until they had been sniffed by ATF dogs and scanned with a metal detector.
They expressed frustrations about missing out on a day to prepare for finals, not eating, and not being able to get books or vehicles from school property that was put on lockdown.
"I'm going to fail Spanish tomorrow," said Aaron Mazie, a junior, walking across the A&P parking lot on Valley Road, where a lot of students were hanging out. "I don't have any of my books."
Cars in the school parking lot also were checked by police canines. An update on the township Board of Education Web site at 6:40 p.m. Wednesday said students could remove their cars from the lot.
PHOTO, Passaic County Sheriff's Department - Explosives sit in a locker Wednesday at Wayne Valley High School. They could've engulfed the top floor in fire and smoke, police said.
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Explosives found in N.J. school lockers