Montana Public Radio

Superintendent, Journalists React To Helena Bomb Scare Confusion

Oct 16, 2019

Class resumed Wednesday at a Helena elementary school that was evacuated after a bomb scare Tuesday. No bomb detonated and no one was injured.

MTPR's Edward O’Brien reports on the aftermath of the unusual day for both the school and Montana journalists.

Helena School Superintendent Tyler Ream says it was back to business as usual Wednesday at Rossiter Elementary.

"I was on campus this morning. It felt – other than the conversations about the campus – it felt like a normal Wednesday on campus."

Lewis & Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton after speaking to reporters about a bomb scare at Helena's Rossiter School, Oct. 15, 2019.
Credit Corin Cates-Carney / Montana Public Radio

Rossiter students, faculty and staff were forced to evacuate Tuesday morning after the local sheriff’s department reported a detonated improvised explosive device was found on the school playground.

Later, they confirmed the "bomb" was merely a pop bottle filled with nuts and bolts and wrapped with tape. Nothing exploded.

"And we’re thankful for that," Ream says. "I’m much happier today knowing it was a bottle from a construction site and obviously not what they initially feared that it may be."

Helena School Superintendent Tyler Ream thinks Montana media accurately reported the facts presented them; confusing and contradictory as those facts eventually proved to be.

Montana Public Radio acting News Director Corin Cates-Carney says his team had only one priority when the story broke.

"To provide accurate, timely information to help the public stay safe."

The breaking story unfolded at a moment when America’s trust in mass media has sunk to all-time lows. On Tuesday, posts to social media questioned law enforcement’s response and local news coverage of the bomb scare.

Helena Independent Record editor, Jesse Chaney.

"Typically, under normal circumstances, we would take a little more time to look into things and make sure they’re correct, but in an emergency situation like that where people’s health and lives may be at stake, I think being quick is the important part."

Screen capture from on the afternoon of Oct. 15, 2019.

Chaney hopes the contradictory and confusing facts behind Tuesday’s bomb scare doesn’t further erode Montanans trust in their local press.

"I hope it doesn’t, because as long as people followed us from beginning to end, they’d see that the information was corrected as soon as it was corrected by the authorities. If we get it wrong, we’ll be up front about that and say that. That’s what we did yesterday, so I hope people see that."

MTPR’s Corin Cates-Carney says his reporters were just as surprised as everyone else when police later announced there was, in fact, no explosion.

"I think it is fair to be confused about what happened when there is something so serious as a reported improvised explosive device on a school playground; and then within the same day that turns out not to be the case. It’s fair to be concerned about how all of that happened."

Calls placed to the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Department for follow up questions were not returned by deadline Wednesday.

Superintendent Ream says he has no regrets about the decision to evacuate the school, and praises his faculty and staff for how well they executed that plan:

"I’m also really thankful for the parents. I’ve been in evacuations where parents are upset and they want to see their child right away, and we didn’t have any of that yesterday. The Rossiter families were amazing. They were thankful. They were patient. In just over two hours we had reconnected every student with a family member or a friend of the family."

Ream says Rossiter school staff Wednesday wanted to drive home two important messages to their roughly 490 K-5 students.

"Number 1, schools are a safe place and you’re surrounded by people who really care about you. Number 2, when you see something that doesn’t look right, doesn’t feel right, tell an adult."