FAIRFIELD — About 700 people were evacuated from Kennebec Valley Community College’s main campus Tuesday morning after a student found the word “bomb” written in marker ink inside a bathroom stall.
Police found no bomb at the Western Avenue campus. It re-opened for classes at 5 p.m.
When the student noticed the writing in the downstairs women’s bathroom in Carter Hall, she alerted faculty, who evacuated 600 students and 100 staff members about 9:15 a.m., said Joseph Massey, Fairfield’s interim police chief.
“There was just that one word, without any indication of anything else,” Massey said. He said the lettering was a couple of inches tall.
Two police dog teams from the Maine State Police were brought in to help search for a bomb but found nothing, Massey said. Police left the campus in the early afternoon.
Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said there is no specific standard that defines whether a threat is credible enough to trigger an evacuation. He said the decisions are made on a case by case basis.
Massey said fingerprints, photographs and statements from faculty members would be taken during the investigation’s early stages.
Investigators don’t know how long the writing was in the stall, he said, but are working under the assumption that it was recent.
“That’s a bathroom that’s used quite often, so I think it would have been noticed fairly soon,” Massey said.
He said bomb threats at large facilities such as colleges are always costly affairs, with the price tag likely to be thousands of dollars.
“It mobilizes a lot of public safety personnel, including police, fire, ambulances, and staff from the campus itself,” he said. “It’s a major operation.”
Massey said the person who wrote the word would face a charge of causing a public false alarm, but that the exact charges would depend on how the investigation unfolds.
Under Maine’s criminal code, causing a false public alarm is punishable by up to 364 days in prison and a $2,000 fine.
The crime is defined as “knowingly” communicating false information about a fire, explosive or similar device.
Massey said he is motivated to find the person responsible.
“Someone thinks these types of jokes are funny, and I’d like to have that person stand in front of a judge and see if the judge thinks it’s funny,” he said.
John Delile, the college’s dean of finance, said an unexpected closing is also expensive for the school, which has to send paid staff members home early.
“Losing class days is costly for us,” Delile said. “It puts a lot of pressure on students to make up the day.”
Delile said campus staff members followed evacuation protocol without any major problems.
For more than three hours after the alarm was raised, emergency officials blocked off the entrance to the college with vehicles and waved off any cars whose drivers indicated that they wanted to enter.
When asked by students what was going on, members of the Fairfield Fire and Rescue Department would say only that the campus “is closed for the day.”
Jolene Harding-Davis, the owner of Room to Grow, a day care business across the street, said she was concerned when she saw campus staff members moving students off the property.
“We called the police to try to find out what was going on,” she said.
Harding-Davis said police told her that there was no need to evacuate the day care site, and she called parents to let them know what was going on.
Massey asked that anyone with information related to the case call Fairfield police at 453-9321.
Massey is interim chief while the town conducts a search for a permanent chief. He is also the chief of the Waterville Police Department.
The college’s Harold Alfond Campus, located seven miles north of the main campus on U.S. Route 201, was unaffected by the threat.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287