Davis bomb scares: Tempers flare outside as school board holds emergency meeting with police

It’s unclear what Davis Joint Unified School District trustees and a police chief discussed Tuesday to stop repeated bomb scares at an emergency, closed-session school board meeting. Board members didn’t take any action on the heels of three bomb threats targeting schools this week.

But some answers came for residents pitted on opposite sides of increasingly divisive gender-identity topics.

It started with Liam Taylor genuflecting in front of Yolo County’s Moms for Liberty chapter chair Beth Bourne and begging her to stop her comments while board members discussed the threats away from the public’s purview. Both yelled at one another, prompting Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel to emerge from the closed session meeting and request them to be calm.

But it ended with Taylor and Bourne sitting on a curb and quietly conversing after the emergency meeting’s open session ended less than a minute after trustees emerged from their private talks. The public and reporters hadn’t even all entered the building when someone said there was nothing reportable from the closed session and swiftly adjourned the meeting.

The emergency meeting agenda didn’t specify if trustees met with Pytel to discuss the bomb threats. Pytel declined to talk about what happened in the closed session, saying he was forbidden by the Brown Act.

Board president Lea Darrah did not return a request for comment.

Six total bomb threats against Davis-area schools and the city’s main library have been made via email since late August, all of them containing anti-LGBTQ language, according to the Davis Police Department and Yolo County Sheriff’s Office.

“The important thing to remember is bomb threats are almost never real,” Pytel said after the meeting. “They are designed to threaten people, cause intimidation and fear.”

Threats reportedly made Aug. 21, Aug. 25 and Aug. 28 targeted the Mary L. Stephens branch of the Yolo County Library system, affecting nearby North Davis Elementary and Davis Senior High campuses.

Additional threats allegedly made last Wednesday, as well as Monday and Tuesday of this week, have targeted numerous Davis Joint Unified campuses and the county library, prompting law enforcement response and, in some instances, delayed school start times.

On Tuesday, Fairfield Elementary School and King High School were the latest to be targeted. There also was a threat directed toward Da Vinci Charter Academy’s campuses, too, but Pytel said it wasn’t clear if the messenger intended both the junior high or high school. Police cleared both and checked for devices out of an abundance of caution, he added.

The recent scares began shortly after the Yolo County chapter of Moms of Liberty held an Aug. 20 meeting at the library on East 14th Street, in which a library employee asked group members to leave once the meeting turned to speak about transgender issues, specifically when the speaker began to call transgender female athletes “biological men.”

Davis police said there was no evidence connecting the bomb threats to the Moms of Liberty meeting but, in a statement posted to social media Monday evening, said “the correlation between the two cannot be ignored as part of the overall criminal investigations.”

“I don’t remember anything like this happening,” said Pytel, who’s been with the force for a little more than 40 years. He also was a cadet at the department as a teen.

It’s not clear if the same messenger has been sending the threats, he said, though the word choice and language of the messages have “commonalities” between them.

Recipients of the emails have been the same, too: It includes media outlets like the New York Times and California state agencies with no ties to law enforcement, he said.

Davis police have said they’ve tracked the threats to foreign countries, such as Nigeria, indicating the sender lives there or is trying to hide the true location. This is accomplished using virtual private networks (VPNs) or other security services.

But tracking the messages’ true origin is a daunting task, Pytel said. Investigators have moved on to using “old fashioned intelligence” — looking and seeing if anyone else is sending the same types of emails to other school districts in the capital region.

“We solve the crimes, including the serious crimes, by good old-fashioned police work,” he said.