A bomb threat at Shaw Air Force Base on Thursday forced a lockdown of the military installation for several hours, preventing both Shaw Heights Elementary School and High Hills Elementary School from dismissing at their normal times.
No one was injured in the false alarm; however, the delay prevented parents and buses from picking up the young students until about 30 minutes after the typical dismissal time — leaving the vehicles' drivers outside, wondering what was happening within the base gates.
Military officials first learned of the bomb threat about 12:10 p.m. when, according to Master Sgt. Cohen Young with the 20th Fighter Wing public affairs office, the base's emergency response team received a report alerting them to the potential threat.
"The wing mobilized specialized airmen and equipment to thoroughly investigate the area, taking extensive precautions to ensure the safety of all base personnel," Young said. "The sweeps resulted in negative findings near the base schools."
Shelly Galloway, spokeswoman for Sumter School District, said parents and buses were finally approved to enter the base gate on S.C. 441 — the one closest to the two schools — about 3 p.m.
"Unfortunately, the school district was not officially notified until toward the end of the lockdown," Galloway said. "As a result, the dismissal was delayed."
Long traffic lines outside each of the base's gates were reported Wednesday afternoon. Young said base personnel were "concluding additional sweeps outside their respective work areas as a prescribed safety precaution," about 3 p.m.
At that time, base officials said they were expecting the public school students would be dismissed at their normal times, apparently unaware that the standard dismissal time had already passed.
The local public school district operates both schools on the grounds of the base, educating both military and non-military dependents from surrounding areas. Standing next to one another on Frierson Road, the two schools have a combined enrollment of about 950 students.
Parents and guardians of students living outside the base are required at the beginning of the school year to register for non-transferable passes in order to pick up their children from the schools.