A bomb threat that prompted the evacuation of four Lexington high schools Tuesday came with a demand for a $500,000 payment to a Bitcoin account, school officials said in a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Shortly after noon Tuesday, Fayette County Public School officials received an anonymous message through the district’s STOP tip line that bombs had been placed on four high school campuses. The message demanded a $500,000 ransom payment to a Bitcoin account.
The unusual nature of the threat, the specific information it contained and the condensed timeline for response prompted officials to evacuate all four high schools — Henry Clay, Frederick Douglass, Lafayette and Paul Laurence Dunbar — immediately.
“Considering the urgent nature of that threat as well as the deadline given, which was 12:30 p.m., I made the decision to evacuate the campuses immediately so that our law enforcement could assess the threat,” said Fayette Superintendent Demetrus Liggins.
Liggins said he was not aware of any subsequent threats sent to the school district.
Liggins said school staffs “did a phenomenal job” with evacuating students to football fields at the schools and keeping them safe. He said each campus had a unique process for dismissing students for the day after the threats were received, accounting for the varying instructions families and students in the district might have received.
As of Wednesday morning, no arrests had been made and schools resumed normal operations, officials said.
Deffendall said shortly before 2:30 p.m. Wednesday that there were no updates on the investigation.
The Lexington Police Intelligence Unit and Federal Bureau of Investigation were investigating the source of the threat that led to the evacuations of about 10,000 students and staffs across the four campuses.
Fayette County Public Schools Police Chief Martin Schafer said the “threat was received outside the Fayette County Public Schools network.”
Once students and staff were moved to safety, officers began inspecting the buildings for any potential threat.
Experts from the ATF and Fayette Sheriff’s office responded and explosives-detecting dogs were used. Schafer said those agencies and the Kentucky Department of Homeland Security all reached out within minutes.
Schafer said the school staffs followed the training they had previously received for such situations and were “thinking on their feet” to make sure everyone was safe.
Schafer said he could not speak to whether there are suspects, but he said there were a lot of resources devoted to solving the case. He said investigators were speaking to a lot of people to get the full story before they can focus their efforts on one person or persons.
The public was notified when each school building was “cleared” or fully searched, he said. One school had been cleared as of 5 p.m., said Schafer. More were cleared as the night progressed Tuesday.
“Nothing found on any of the campuses,” Deffendall said.
Lafayette Principal Bryne Jacobs told families in an email Tuesday night that “every indication is that today’s threat was a hoax, although there is an active investigation into this incident.”
“I know both local authorities, the state department of homeland security, and the FBI are working in concert to identify the source of the hoax, and I feel confident... those responsible will be held accountable, “ Jacobs said.
Bryan Station High School and Tates Creek High School were apparently not targeted, Schafer said.