Columbia Elementary School was locked down for about two hours Thursday morning in response to a bomb threat.
Sgt. Andrea Benson said a 15-year-old boy was detained at the home of a friend in the Roll-In Mobile Home Park on South Airport Road at approximately 11:30 a.m. for questioning.
The teen is a student at Sonora High School. He was overheard at home by a female sibling, who is a Columbia student, saying he was going to "blow up the school."
At about 1:15 p.m., Benson said in an email that the boy was taken to the Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility, but she did not have information on whether he was charged with a crime.
“At this time all we have is preliminary information. Interviews with the juvenile are being conducted,” she said.
The teen told deputies all he had was a firecracker, which caused them to believe it was not a credible threat, she said.
Columbia Elementary School Superintendent Joseph Aldridge said the boy’s sibling told Principal Nikki Lamm about the threat at 10:10 a.m.
“She said her brother potentially had some sort of device and was upset and threatening both our school and Sonora High School,” Aldridge said.
Aldridge and Benson said they did not have any information regarding the boy’s motive.
The Columbia Elementary School girl is between the age of fourth and sixth grade, Aldridge said.
The school contacted the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office and deputies responded to the school within 10 minutes. The lockdown was lifted at 12:17 p.m.
About a dozen law enforcement responded, including the SWAT team and K9 unit. The deputies searched the outside campus grounds, and in garbage bins and under cars. One deputy said they were looking for a device. A drone operator also flew a drone over the campus for about 20 minutes.
The SWAT team was released before noon.
Aldridge said that the students were not evacuated from the school grounds because the boy’s comment was an “exterior threat.” Officials believed if a bomb was on campus, it likely would not be inside a campus building, he said.
“We had plans in place and discussed how to react. The staff made sure all students and staff were safe,” Aldridge said.
A parent standing outside the school, Denise McCollum, said she received an automated phone message that said there was a bomb threat. She went to the school to pick up her daughter, who is in kindergarten, but was told during the lockdown students could not be released.
"It's my kid. Anything involving my child is urgent, especially a bomb threat," McCollum said.
There were reports of children crying in classrooms, where they were told initially to lie down on the floor.
McCollum was able to get her daughter when the lockdown ended and carried her to a car parked in the lot.
Columbia Elementary is a kindergarten through eighth grade school with 492 students, Aldridge said. It's located just outside Columbia State Historic Park.
Benson did not provide a response as to whether the local bomb threat was at all related to spate of bomb threats reported nationwide on Thursday.
A Twitter page for the New York Police Department Counterterrorism Unit said multiple bomb threats were electronically sent to locations throughout the city.
“These threats are also being reported to other locations nationwide & are NOT considered credible at this time,” the post said.
Multiple news outlets have reported that the emailed threats were an extortion scam related to Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency.