West Middle School evacuated after bomb threat; search reveals ‘nothing of concern’; juvenile booked into detention center

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

A Haz-Mat vehicle from the Olathe Fire Department is pictured at Lawrence's West Middle School Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, after the school was the apparent target of a bomb threat.

Updated at 4:50 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023

A student is in custody and hundreds of middle school students are grappling with the ordeal of having been evacuated from their Lawrence school Thursday after it was the target of a bomb threat.

The events — which ultimately turned up no explosive device — unfolded Thursday morning at West Middle School, 2700 Harvard Road, after a report of a written threat “that could be considered a bomb threat,” according to a news release from the Lawrence school district.

The district said that students reported to West staff Thursday that they saw a student write a threatening note Wednesday on an iPad.

“We consider this note a bomb threat,” the district communicated to parents. “The note referenced the school day (Thursday).”

Neither the district nor Lawrence police specified what the threat said, and no additional information has been released about the juvenile who was taken into custody. Police have said only that they were able to identify and question the student “responsible for the threat” and that the individual was ultimately booked into the Juvenile Detention Center.

As a safety precaution, police directed West to be evacuated and searched; all students and staff walked to nearby Sunset Hill Elementary School. According to the Kansas State Department of Education, 610 students are enrolled at West this year.

From Sunset Hill, 901 Schwarz Road, buses moved the West students and staff across town, about 3 miles, to Free State High School, 4700 Overland Drive, where the students were served lunch in the gymnasium and given support. The West students did not remain at Sunset Hill because of the small size of the school compared with Free State, the district said.

Hazardous materials units from Johnson County and an explosive-sniffing dog were seen around noon Thursday outside West. A law enforcement officer was using the dog to examine a trash receptacle near the school’s entrance. Around 1 p.m., the school district sent out a release saying that “nothing of concern” had been found and that an all-clear had been issued for people to return to the school. West students who hadn’t been picked up by their parents at Free State were bused back to West.

“All of our schools have mental health teams,” district spokesperson Julie Boyle said in an email to the Journal-World. “They provided care and support today during the evacuation, lunch, and return to school. The superintendent, several district administrators and some school administrators from other buildings were also there to assist.”

“The school mental health team will continue to provide social-emotional support as needed,” she added.

During the evacuation and search, Boyle indicated that no media access would be allowed on campus at West or Free State. However, a number of West students had contacted the Journal-World around noon saying that they were upset, were in the school’s gym and wanted to go home.

A Journal-World reporter observed some parents picking up their children. One parent, with tears in her eyes, was heard saying, “I am over public schools.”

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Police cars are pictured outside West Middle School Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, after the school was the apparent target of a bomb threat.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Free State High School, 4700 Overland Drive, is pictured Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. Students from West Middle School, 2700 Harvard Road, were bused to Free State Thursday after a bomb threat.

The initial letter that the district sent to parents follows:

Dear West Middle School Families,

I want to inform you of a police investigation involving a report of a written threat at West Middle School. Students reported to West staff today that they saw a student write a threatening note yesterday on an iPad. We consider this note a bomb threat. The note referenced the school day today.

We are working with law enforcement to investigate this report. This will include talking to this student, the student’s family, and other students who may have witnessed something yesterday.

As a safety precaution, staff are evacuating West Middle School while police search the building. We are walking students and staff to nearby Sunset Hill Elementary.

Because of the size of Sunset Hill, we have requested buses to transport West students and staff to Free State, where we will provide everyone lunch.

I understand that threats to the safety of our schools are frightening. We take them seriously. There is nothing more important to us than your students’ safety.

We ask that families please do not come to the campus. That will only interfere with the police investigation and our efforts to keep students and staff safe.

When the students arrive at Free State, we will provide an update with optional early pick-up procedures.

Once the police finish the search of the building at West, and assure its safe, we plan to take students and staff back to West.

We have a lot of support from district and building administrators and our mental health teams at Sunset Hill taking care of your students. They are safe!

Again, as soon as we are able to get them to Free State, I will contact you with details for optional pick-up procedures.


Julie Boyle

Executive Director of Communications

Lawrence Public Schools

— Journal-World reporter Chris Conde contributed to this report.


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