A suspicious device found by Ferndale School District maintenance personnel Thursday morning in the parking lot of the Whatcom Discovery Center turned out to be a modified firework that was safely disposed of by police.
Ferndale Police responded at 9:48 a.m. to 5780 Hendrickson Ave. and found what they identified as an explosive device propped up against a curb approximately 100 feet from the building, Ferndale Communications Officer Riley Sweeney said.
A dog trained to sniff out explosives and an explosives expert from the Bellingham Police Department were called in to assist, and students, teachers and other school personnel were moved to the gymnasium.
Sweeney said, the explosives team from Bellingham determined the device was a commercial grade fireworks mortar that had been modified, “which is what concerned them the most.”
“They opened it up and determined that while it had been modified, it had not been modified as a weapon,” Sweeney said. “It was modified to make a more dramatic firework.”
The device was safely disposed of, and students returned to class after approximately two hours.
Whatcom Discovery Center serves elementary, middle, and high school students in Whatcom and Skagit counties who have significant social, emotional, and behavioral difficulties. The building is the former home of Mountain View Elementary, which closed in 2014.
Sweeney said Ferndale Police continue to investigate, but because of where the mortar was found, it was not believed to have been intended as a threat against the school.
“We’d like to remind people that if you see any sort of device you suspect as being an explosive, do not pick it up, handle it or move it to another location,” Sweeney said. “Call law enforcement to come out and handle it properly.”
Ferndale School District officials sent an email out to district staff and families informing them of the incident.
Thursday’s incident was the first time the Ferndale School District got to put new communication protocols to a test since a May 25 incident at Horizon Middle School sent many parents to social media to share frustrations about the district’s perceived lack of transparency about the threat to students.
“We have learned by listening to our parents and community that they don’t want any surprises,” Superintendent Linda Quinn said. “When we have an incident, they have told us they want to hear what’s going on as soon as possible. We acted on their request yesterday.”