Rossiter Elementary School, Helena.

Bomb scare at Montana school was false alarm

Oct. 16, 2019
Rossiter Elementary in Helena was evacuated after authorities found a soda bottle on the school playground that they thought was a detonated explosive device.

A bomb scare that led to the evacuation of a Montana school and lockdowns at many other campuses turned out to be a false alarm, authorities now say. 

The Helena Independent Record reports that a bomb squad determined a bottle found Tuesday morning at Rossiter Elementary School in Helena had not exploded as originally thought and was not dangerous. 

About 490 students at the school were evacuated after the suspicious bottle was found on the school's playground. 

Initially, authorities reported that the plastic bottle, wrapped in tape, had exploded on the school grounds before students and staff arrived.

"It did not explode," Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said. "There wasn't any kind of improvised device. But that's what it looked like."

Officials believe the plastic bottle, filled with nuts, bolts, washers and an unidentified non-flammable liquid, came from a construction site.

"We know who put it there, and it wasn't malicious," Dutton said.

After authorities were called to the school Tuesday, Rossiter was closed for the rest of the day, and all other public schools and some private schools in Helena and East Helena were placed on lockdown before being cleared by law enforcement.

Law enforcement also conducted sweeps of the state Capitol building and other state government offices in Helena, and authorities in Cascade, Broadwater and Jefferson counties responded to schools in their areas as a precaution. 

Helena School Superintendent Tyler Ream said he was happy with the way staff responded and was thankful for the response from parents.

Asked how the evacuation would be explained to students, Ream said he met with Rossiter staff and the message will center on the importance of reporting anything suspicious.

“From an age-appropriate standpoint we’ll have those conversations,” he said. “The main message is going to be: If you see something, it doesn’t feel right, doesn’t look right, say something.”

Both Dutton and Undersheriff Jason Grimmis praised the school’s response and said the response from law enforcement was also warranted, given the information coming from officers at the site. 

“I would say that we handled this appropriately,” Dutton said. “I would say that if you had a child and this was really a bomb, did we take this serious, and absolutely we did. I would say sorry you had to go through that emotion, but I would also say I’m glad our team here, local state and federal, acted in such a way that we brought this to a conclusion this quick.”

Earlier story:

An elementary school in Helena, Mont., was evacuated Tuesday morning after what is believed to be a detonated explosive device was found on the school playground.

The Helena Independent Record reports that the device, which authorities describes as a soda bottle wrapped in duct tape, was found at Rossiter Elementary School. No injuries were reported.

Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said the explosion did not result in any property damage.

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