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Man charged in connection with school bomb threat

Colleen Kelleher, wtop.com

ANNANDALE, Va. – A 19-year-old Virginia man has been charged with felony threats to bomb a school and criminal trespass.

Marco Antonio Verduo Toledo of Burke was arrested Friday morning in connection with a security scare that shut down Annandale High School for several hours.

A Fairfax County schools spokesman says Toledo is a former student.

Parents are criticizing how Fairfax County Public Schools handled the situation, saying there was confusion and not enough information about what was happening.

A threat was phoned into WJLA-TV at 4:35 a.m., and no one was allowed inside the school or on its property as police investigated. The threat disrupted not only the opening of Annandale High, but also transportation to 18 Fairfax County elementary schools.

Fairfax County police later allowed the school to reopen. But parents of the high schoolers say their children sat on buses for hours and that the school system didn’t notify them of the situation until 9:03 a.m.

Some parents found out what was happening when their kids called them, sent them text messages or tweeted the ordeal.

Kelly, whose daughter Ashley attends the school, told WTOP the school system was “completely unorganized.”

“I had to stay on the phone with my daughter just to find out what school they were taking her to, because they kept changing their minds,” Kelly said.

The school buses transporting the students kept moving from location to location, creating more chaos for parents.

Ashley says she was a bit “freaked out” by the situation. She ended up giving her mother turn-by-turn directions so Kelly could catch up with Ashley’s bus.

“My mom had to pull up right next to the bus and talk to him (the bus driver),” Ashley said.

Kimberly, another parent of an Annandale student, said her daughter, Deanna, sent her a text about what was happening.

“I thought I should have heard from the school, the little recorded message saying that the students were safe, I should have gotten that message before I was able to get my daughter off the bus,” Kimberly said.

Deanna, a freshman, said when her bus was about five minutes from Annandale High, the driver pulled over. The bus sat for about 20 minutes before it was directed to Annandale Terrace Elementary and then to Thomas Jefferson High School and then to Braddock Elementary before being sent back to Annandale Terrace Elementary.

“The lack of communication is a frustration,” said one father looking to pick up his daughter, who is a senior at the school. “Our daughter gets on the bus at 6:30 a.m. and we’re not told anything officially until 9 or 9:30?”

Another father called it a panic moment when he heard about the bomb scare.

Bridget, who also received a text from her daughter, says her daughter’s bus took her to multiple locations before dropping her at home. Her daughter, who doesn’t drive, didn’t have a way back to school once it reopened.

“The county has good systems of getting word out, but they could have gotten word out a little bit sooner, before these kids went to the bus stop,” said Bridget, who received a text message from the school system at 9:04 a.m. followed by a phone call.

She said the school system could have delayed the opening of Annandale High School two hours as police investigated. That way the elementary schools would not have been as affected.

“We certainly understand parents’ concerns,” said Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman John Torre.

Torre said there will be a follow-up report to the incident.

“We are always looking for a better way to do this,” Torre said.

Police deployed a helicopter, bomb squad, bombing-sniffing dogs and two bomb-detecting robots during the investigation.

Police did find “an item that appears suspicious to us outside the building and in the front yard part of the school building,” Fairfax County police spokesperson Bud Walker told WTOP.

Two bomb technicians checked out what appeared to be a backpack, but found nothing suspicious, WTOP’s Adam Tuss reported from the scene.

Because Fairfax County uses the same school buses to transport elementary students, Torre told WTOP the threat had a “ripple effect” on the elementary schools. Parents of those students were told to find alternative transportation for their children.

The following elementary schools were affected, according to an emergency announcement from the school system:

  • Annandale Terrace
  • Bren Mar Park
  • Columbia
  • Holmes
  • North Springfield
  • Weyanoke
  • Braddock
  • Beech Tree
  • Belvedere
  • Bryant
  • Camelot
  • Canterbury Woods
  • Fairhill
  • Little Run
  • Parklawn
  • Pine Spring
  • Sleepy Hollow
  • Poe

The threat came ahead of spring break for Fairfax County students, which is scheduled for April 2 to April 10.

WTOP’s Adam Tuss was on the scene Friday morning. He tweeted what was happening.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)