St. George, UT – Police were able to thwart an attempted bombing at a Utah high school on Monday, after students noticed smoke coming from a backpack in the school cafeteria and alerted a school resource officer.
“I came around the corner and I could smell smoke,” Jack Whalen told the St. George News. “As I walked by, I looked inside of it, and I could see the matches inside of it.”
Pine View High School’s 1,100 students were immediately evacuated, The Spectrum reported.
A bomb-detecting K9 and members of the FBI, the Washington County Bomb Squad, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, and the Washington County School District responded to the school at approximately 12:20 p.m.
“The item in the backpack was an improvised explosive device [I.E.D.] that failed to function,” the St. George Police Department (SGPD) said in a press release.
“It was designed, and placed in a specific location, at a specific time, for the purpose of spreading shrapnel in a manner that was intended to injure and/or kill as many people as possible in the vicinity of the backpack,” the release said.
Authorities disarmed the device, and investigators were able to obtain and execute a search warrant at the residence of a juvenile male suspect, who was a student at the school, the SGPD said.
Officers said they found bomb-building materials inside the teen’s home, which were consistent with those used to construct the device discovered inside the backpack.
Investigators also learned that the suspect had been researching and promoting ISIS propaganda online.
The unnamed student was arrested at the school’s football stadium, where he and his classmates were staged following the evacuation, ABC News reported.
He was also identified as a suspect in connection with a vandalism at Hurricane High School on Feb. 15, during which the school’s American flag was replaced with an ISIS flag, according to The Spectrum.
“ISIS is comi–,” the vandal spray painted on one of the school’s outside walls.
Hurricane police said they planned to file charges against the teen with regard to the vandalism.
The juvenile male remained in custody, and has been charged with manufacture, possession, sale, use or attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, the SGPD said.
Additional charges may be pending.
Washington County School District spokesman Steve Dunham credited the first responders for affecting a “great outcome,” despite the potentially catastrophic consequences of the situation.
“It has been phenomenal,” Dunham told the St. George News. “Nobody has been hurt, and the students are on their way home safe.”
The SGPD noted that the students who reported the suspicious backpack were the primary reason for the positive outcome.
“We’d like to recognize and thank the students who notified faculty and the SRO,” the SGPD said. “Their immediate action played a large role in this incident ending with no injuries.”