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Update: No Bomb, No Explosion At Helena School, Sheriff Says

Lewis & Clark County Undersheriff Jason Grimmis and Sheriff Leo Dutton talk to reporters about an explosion at Helena's Rossiter School, Oct. 15, 2019.
Corin Cates-Carney
Montana Public Radio
Lewis & Clark County Undersheriff Jason Grimmis and Sheriff Leo Dutton talk to reporters about an explosion at Helena's Rossiter School, Oct. 15, 2019.

Updated 4:30 p.m., Oct 15, 2019

Students at Rossiter School in Helena evacuated Tuesday morning after the Lewis and Clark’s Sheriff’s Department reported a detonated improvised explosive device found on the school playground. But law enforcement now says there was no detonation and no bomb.

The Lewis and Clark Sheriff's Office is backtracking statements made earlier today that an explosive device detonated at the Rossiter School in Helena. In a press conference this afternoon Sheriff Leo Dutton said it wasn’t a bomb and it didn’t explode.

"Further examination shows it did not have a detonator in it."

In the hours after the school evacuation Dutton described the item as an "exploded improvised device" made out of a pop bottle and duct tape.

The finding locked down schools all across Helena and East Helena for several hours Tuesday morning. Law enforcement officers also swept and cleared the other schools across the town and also reported searching government buildings and the state Capitol.

By early afternoon Dutton changed the Sheriff's Office’s description of what happened. Dutton said in a press conference that the bottle wrapped in black tape was not a bomb.

He said a homeless man left the bottle on the playground after picking up garbage, likely from the construction site. Dutton said the plastic bottle also had unidentified fluid in it and was full of bolts, nuts, and washers.

Dutton says Sheriff's Office officials initially determined it was an explosive device, but that conclusion was reversed when a bomb squad investigated further. The sheriff says it looked like a bomb, but it wasn’t.

"Yep, it wasn’t a bomb. But I’m thankful to say that. I’m thankful that I can look parents in the eye and say 'you know what, it wasn’t. It was from a construction site.' It wasn’t a hoax by any means. And we responded in the way we should have."

Soon after 8 this morning Rossiter staff called 911 reporting the item found on the parking lot.

Rossiter canceled classes after the evacuation and parents were asked to pick up their kids nearby.

Dutton said during the afternoon press conference that he was sorry to parents for the inconvenience but it’s a blessing it wasn’t a bomb.

"We would rather error on the side of giving you information and rather than you withholding things and trying to speculate on what it might. We’re sorry that that wasn’t the case. But we’re not sorry that we responded with what we knew at the time."

Tyler Ream is the Superintendent of Helena Public Schools.

"Our partners in law enforcement did a terrific job. As the sheriff mentioned, we don’t know what the item is. So I’m thankful to the staff member who identified that. Thankful to law enforcement in terms of how they reacted to it. And thankful to the Rossiter staff for how they evac-ed students to an alternate site."

Classes at Rossiter will resume Wednesday.


Updated 12:10 p.m., Oct. 15, 2019

This story will be updated.

Rossiter School in Helena was evacuated Tuesday morning after an improvised explosive device was found on the playground. According to the Lewis and Clark County sheriff the device detonated, but no one was hurt.

Local officials are asking parents of Rossiter students to pick up their kids at the Little Red Schoolhouse Museum east of the frontage road in Helena.

Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said during a press briefing this morning that the explosive device was made out of a pop bottle and duct tape. He said was found by school staff this morning.

"An incident that was discovered this morning at about 8:21. Rossiter school called the 911 center to report that they had found an exploded improvised device. We thought thought it exploded this morning. But we’re not for sure exactly when it exploded. But when they found it, it had been exploded. It was a pop bottle."

Lockdowns at all of Helena District 1 Schools and East Helena Schools were lifted a few hours ago after law enforcement swept and cleared the buildings.

Law enforcement are also sweeping the state Capitol and government buildings.

Rossiter is closed for the day and officials say it’s unclear if it will open tomorrow.

Sheriff Dutton says the source of the explosive device found at Rossiter is currently unknown.

An investigation is going. The county bomb squad, the FBI, Montana Highway Patrol, and Helena Police Department are on scene.

The sheriff's department says they'll share more information at a press briefing at 2:30 p.m


The following is a press release from the Lewis & Clark County Sheriffs Office:

An Improvised Explosive Device was found this morning on the Rossiter School playground in Helena. It detonated shortly after. Nobody was injured.

Rossiter students are being evacuated and the path for kids to evacuate has been cleared. Parents are asked to pick up their kids at the Little Red Schoolhouse East of the frontage road. Sierra Road is closed from Montana to the Frontage Road and people are asked to avoid this area. Buses are at the Little Red School House to keep the kids warm while they wait for their parents.

The Lewis & Clark County Sheriff's Office held a press briefing at 10:30 a.m.

All Helena District 1 Schools and East Helena Schools are currently on lockdown to be searched by law enforcement but are not being evacuated at this time.

In addition to the Lewis and Clark Sheriff’s office, the FBI, Montana Highway Patrol, Helena Police Department, and Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms are on-scene as well as the LCCO bomb squad

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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