Officials respond to threat at school

Frederick County Sheriffs Office deputy Corey Garrison, left, stands outside the entrance to Robert E. Aylor Middle School in Stephens City as Capt. John Heflin, right, talks on his phone and stops a parent from going into the middle school parking lot Friday afternoon. Students were evacuated by buses and sent to Sherando HIgh School following a phone threat to the school. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY — A threatening call to Aylor Middle School drew more than a dozen police cars and forced the transportation of around 600 students to Sherando High School on Friday afternoon.

Frederick County Sheriff Lenny Millholland said the middle school received a threatening call from a male caller around 11:56 a.m., and that the school was on the phone with the caller for “a little while.” He did not specify the threats made, saying the incident is still under investigation. Though the threats were viable and serious enough to warrant response, he said the students were never in any real danger.

“There was no incident, no situation that involved the health and safety of any of the children,” he said after the school was cleared. “All the protocol was followed and we’re happy with the outcome that there was no situation.”

Millholland said that the scene was cleared by around 1 p.m.

“It’s not a game. A lot of people think it might be a game but it affects a whole lot of lives,” he said. “I’ve got probably a thousand parents that are wondering about their children right now. … It’s uncalled for, and it’s got to stop.”

Frederick County Sheriffs Office Capt. John Heflin, left, and deputy Corey Garrison, right, chat outside Robert E. Aylor Middle School in Stephens City on Friday. Rich Cooley/Daily

The middle school threat came less than two weeks after a “swatting” incident prompted law enforcement response to a Stephens City residence on Main Street for a false hostage call.

Millholland said investigators work to find out the source of such calls and deal with them appropriately, including restitution charges for the costs of responding to the incidents. The consequences for such calls, he said, are “very, very severe.”

“I can promise you that the restitution for this one would be pretty high,” he said.

The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Virginia State Police, the Stephens City Police Department and officials with the Attorney General’s Office assisted with the incident. Millholland said that more than 20 people responded, including two who were off-duty.

Although he said there is no threat to the school at the moment, calls like the one received Friday must be taken seriously.

Frederick County police cruisers block the entrance to Aylor Middle School in Stephens City while a threat was being accessed. Rich Cooley/Daily

“If they say that they’re going to hurt one person, it’s our responsibility to respond, so that’s what we do,” he said.

Steve Edwards, coordinator of policy and communications for Frederick County Schools, said Bass Hoover Elementary School nearby was placed on lockdown briefly as a precautionary measure. Likewise, he said Sherando High School and Middletown Elementary School had increased security following the call.

“The threat was focused on Aylor, but we always want to secure the safety of all of our students and staff,” he said.

Edwards said that Aylor students were arriving at Sherando between around 12:45 and 1:15 p.m., and parents were told that their children would be leaving from the high school.

“All of our schools have crisis plans in place and those plans include a variety of different scenarios that the school might encounter,” he said. “Our crisis plans are followed in this kind of situation.”

Lenny Millholland

After school activities at Aylor were canceled and participating students were told to ride their buses home. Parents were told to arrive for pick-up at 3:15 p.m. Activities at Sherando were not canceled following the threat.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com