Alert students, police, K9 credited with stopping potential deadly Utah school bombing

Jack Whalen, the student who found the bag and alerted faculty speaks with KUTV (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) - St. George Utah Police are crediting "extremely perceptive" students and fast-acting law enforcement for stopping what could have been a deadly attack at Pine View High School.

"After examining the device, bomb squad members indicated that if it had detonated the device had the potential to cause significant injury or death," Ofc. Lona Trombly of the St. George Police Department said in a press release.

Students at the St. George school noticed a bag near a vending machine that was "smoking and sizzling."

“I could smell a smoke smell and my friends actually saw it before I did,” Jack Whalen, the teen who found the bag said and continued to explain that he looked inside the smoking bag.

They immediately notified faculty who contacted the school's resource officer who called in the threat to law enforcement.

St. George Police, the Washington County Bomb Squad, Washington County Sheriff’s Deputies, Jax, the bomb-sniffing K-9 for DRMC and his handler, Washington County School District and members of the FBI all responded to the school.

The Washington County Bomb Squad, with the help of Jax the K9, were able to identify and disarm the bomb.

The suspect, a juvenile male who was attending a class at Pine View High School, was identified.

“That person was authorized to be on campus for coursework,” Captain Mike Giles with St. George Police said.

2News also learned the suspect was enrolled in the Junior ROTC program.

Police served a warrant at the suspect's home and say they found "items were located that were consistent with the materials used to build the device placed at Pine View," St. George police said in a press release.

Police say their investigation confirmed it was a failed attempt to detonate a homemade explosive at the school, but police also made another startling discovery: the suspect was researching and expressing interest in ISIS and promoting the terrorist organization.

Police believe the juvenile suspect in the failed bombing is the same suspect in a vandalism incident from February involving an ISIS flag and graffiti at Hurricane High School.

The suspect has been arrested and charged with "manufacture, possession, sale, use or attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction prohibited," according to police.

More charges are pending from the Hurricane Police Department for what police are calling "criminal mischief" involving the ISIS flag at Hurricane High School.

Law enforcement is happy with the outcome that resulted in an arrest and no injuries.

Ofc. Lona Trombley with the St. George Police Department thanks, many people, and organizations in a statement:

There were several factors that came into play yesterday which led to a positive outcome. First, we’d like to recognize and thank the students who notified faculty and the SRO of the suspicious backpack. Their immediate action played a large role in this incident ending with no injuries.
Second, the School Resource Officer program which allowed an officer to immediately be on scene to access and address the situation appropriately. He was then able to call inappropriate teams, such as; the Washington County Bomb Squad and Jax, the bomb-detecting K-9 from Dixie Regional Medical Center, to identify and disarm the explosive device. We’d also like to say thank you to the Bomb Squad and to Jax and his handler for responding to the call out.
Third, the Washington County School District, who have implemented drills to practice for incidents such as this, which led to a quick and seamless evacuation of the school.
Finally, we’d like to thank the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI, who responded to assist with everything from the investigation itself to barricading roads.

The Washington County School District's board released a statement to parents Tuesday:

The letter reads:

Dear Parents,
As the Washington County School District Board of Education, we want to reiterate our commitment to the safety of the students in our schools. Recent events, both locally and nationally have given us pause to consider the efforts and resources we are providing to ensure student safety. While we know that there is room for improvement, we applaud the efforts and preparation that are already taking place in our schools and we will continue to work toward refining that system. We discuss safety at every meeting we hold . We have an entire committee that meets monthly with every police agency and the first responders in the County. It is because of these regular and consistent safety trainings that the incident at Pine View High on March 5, went as smoothly as it did. We are discussing additional safety improvement options for our schools to be considered in the next school district bond. The District will be holding additional trainings for school employees to further improve our procedures to increase the security of our buildings. We are also talking with our local, state and national elected officials in addressing additional safety concerns. We are also extremely grateful to St. George Police and all of the agencies and first responders who ensured the safety of our students and faculty at Pine View High. These are invaluable community partners and we are appreciative for their continued support and presence in our schools. Please know that as a school board, we will continue this dialogue to ensure the safety of our students.
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