CHAMPAIGN - A phoned bomb threat and a stray book bag shut down Franklin Middle School this morning.
Bomb squad members X-rayed the blue bag, which was left lying on the playground in front of the school, and they sounded the all clear about 11 a.m.
Meanwhile, Franklin's 563 students who had been evacuated to nearby Judah Christian School waited out the incident, then walked back to Franklin to continue their day.
Lt. Holly Nearing of the Champaign Police Department said a threat was phoned in to the school at 817 North Harris St. about 8:20 a.m.
"The decision was made to evacuate, and the bomb dog from the county courthouse came over to search," Nearing said. "There was nothing suspicious, but a book bag was found outside the school that was not accounted for."
The bomb squad, a joint Champaign and University of Illinois police unit, was called to evaluate the situation and retrieve the bag. Members waited out "the time frame for the explosion" and X-rayed the bag, Nearing said.
Duke, the county's explosives search dog, found nothing suspicious at the scene, officers said.
Champaign police officer Jeff Jolley donned a bomb suit, picked up the bag and turned it over to officials, Nearing said.
Jolley said the suit he wears, which weighs about 100 pounds, would protect him if an explosive blew up, but he said there could be damage, depending on the charge.
"We have quite a bit of protection," he said. "We'll survive."
He said the bomb squad, which was formed in 1973, covers incidents all over downstate Illinois, working with the secretary of state's office.
Jolley said the squad's seven members take a six-week class in Alabama to learn the basics about bomb detonation and they do regular training at home.
"We don't go out on threats," he said. "We go when something like that book bag is found."
He said bomb experts do their work with many controls. They know how long it takes most bombs to detonate and they observe those time limits, and they use equipment like a bomb crater and sandbags, hauled on a trailer to the scene, to control potential hazards.
Nearing said the number of bomb threats at schools tends to increase in the spring. She said callers tend to specify an explosion time.
She said bomb threats are a Class 3 felony, and police intend to investigate the Franklin incident and look into action against the caller.
You can reach Anne Cook at (217) 351-5217 or via e-mail at email@example.com.