Mini fridge determined to be cause of bomb scare at Vashon High School

A small refrigerator powered by a car battery in a locker at Vashon Island High School led to a bomb scare, an evacuation and the cancellation of school Monday.

“There was no bomb threat,” King County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Cindi West said. “A student had a small cooler in his locker, and the battery started to go dead and started beeping, and that’s what tipped everyone off. There was no crime, no intent to somehow disguise the device.”

The discovery was made after a student reported hearing a beeping sound coming from a locker near the music room to a teacher. The teacher then told the office, and, at around 11:30 a.m., VHS Assistant Principal Alanah Baron and Rock went to investigate.

“She (Baron) opened the locker and saw this device on top of a basket. She lifted it up and saw wires and something black. We called 911,” Rock said.

The school’s fire alarms were activated to make the school aware of the evacuation, and students and teachers streamed onto the school’s football field before heading to the McMurray Middle School gymnasium. The sheriff’s office advised cancelling school for the day, so students were bussed home, picked up by parents, released to walk home or escorted to their vehicles at the high school.

Vashon Island School District Superintendent Michael Soltman wrote the following statement in an email to parents around 12:30 p.m. Monday:

“All students and staff are safe and have been evacuated to the McMurray gym,” he wrote. “Law enforcement is conducting an investigation and have requested that we dismiss the high school for the day.”

All VHS sport practices, games and club activities were cancelled for the day. Chautauqua Elementary School and McMurray Middle School remained in session until usual dismissal.

The King County Sheriff’s Office’s bomb squad arrived around 1 p.m. to investigate and determined the device was a fridge about the size of a shoe box sitting on top of a device that was about the size of a college textbook that had thick wires sticking out of it and was believed to be an inverter. The inverter was on top of a black, hard plastic basket, and inside of that was a car battery.

According to Rock, one of the pieces of the device — likely the inverter — was beeping and flashing lights because the car battery was dead.

“The fact that it was sitting on this car battery, beeping, making lights flash with a cooler on top of it were all super good reasons to call the bomb squad,” he said. “They (the sheriff’s deputies) said we absolutely made the right call.”

Sheriff’s officials left the area by 2:30 p.m., and the device was left with Rock.

He said that while the student and his family are apologetic and had no intention of creating an incident, he is still looking at the discipline code to see what rules could apply to the situation.

“I think it’s important it’s maximized as a learning experience,” he said. “The kid feels terrible. I certainly don’t think there needs to be a consequence to help him take responsibility. But it was incredibly disruptive, incredibly impactful, and families were inconvenienced and scared.”

Rock said Tuesday’s school day started with an assembly in the gym followed by students going back to their fourth period to retrieve any left behind items.

“We will talk as a school about the incident and come back together as a community,” he said.