Thursday, November 11, 1999

Former student admits bomb threat


Mason schools open today

BY SHEILA McLAUGHLIN and SUE KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — Connected to a polygraph at Lucasville prison, a former Mason High School student admitted Wednesday to sending a bomb threat that shut down the district for two days, police said.

        Meanwhile, assured by a police sweep that the buildings were safe, the district planned to resume classes today under heightened security. However, high school exams were postponed.

        Police identified inmate Christopher Kerr as sender of the letter to Mason High School. The letter arrived Monday and warned that a bomb would explode in the cafeteria on Wednesday.

        Mr. Kerr, serving 61/2 to 30 years in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility for a 1990 crime spree, now faces the possibility of more time in prison when prosecutors in Scioto and Warren counties decide what charges to file against him.

        “He claimed he was kicked out in 1986 or 1987 and this was his way of getting back at us,” Superintendent Kevin Bright said about the threatening letter.

        School officials couldn't confirm whether Mr. Kerr, 28, was suspended or expelled at that time because school records didn't reflect such a disciplinary action.

        Mr. Kerr, considered a poor student academically, was in the Occupational Work Experience Program but left the school district after the 10th grade, Mr. Bright said. He attended from the sixth grade.

        Mason Chief Ron Ferrell said police aren't sure if revenge actually prompted Mr. Kerr to write the letter. He noted that another Lucasville inmate recently sent a similar threat to the Wooster School District.

        “This scenario happened before in the recent past. We don't know if that had anything to do with his motivation,” he said.

        Mr. Kerr signed his name to the letter and even identified himself in the return address on the envelope, Chief Ferrell said.

        Detectives are confident Mr. Kerr acted alone because prison officials said he had little, if any, contact with anyone outside the institution, Chief Ferrell said.

        Still, Mason school officials said they weren't taking any chances when schools reopen today for the district's 6,000 students. School officials had said they were alarmed by the detailed letter, which they declined to release.

        Up to four uniformed Mason police officers will be stationed at Mason High School throughout the day. Students won't be allowed to bring backpacks or large coats into the high school. Exams that were scheduled to begin Wednesday have been postponed to Monday.

        At nearby Mason Middle School, all students will report immediately to homeroom, where book bags will be checked. Access to the other four schools will be limited, with administrators checking any suspicious bags, Dr. Bright said.

        “We told all the administrators what explosive devices would look like and what to say to parents or students if they were asked about bombs,” Mr. Bright said.

        “We do have safe schools here. We had a bomb threat. We took the necessary precautions. Now, I'm hoping students, staff and parents can get back into the swing of things.”

        He said parents have been supportive of his decision to shut down the schools.

        Parent Darlene Redd agreed with it, even though it meant she had to take a day off work to stay home with her son, Donny, a seventh-grader.

        “When it comes to him being hurt you can't take enough precautions. I would have kept him home. You never know what could happen,” she said.

        Some students weren't sure whether the threat required a two-day closure.

        Daryle Long, 15, said she agreed with the decision to close schools so they could be checked and secured. If school had been in session Wednesday, she would have attended.

        “I think, personally, if someone wants to blow up the schools, they're not going to tell us,” Daryle said.

        Warren County court records indicate that Mr. Kerr was sent to prison in October 1990 at age 18 after a series of crimes that included stealing two cars, beating a man with a 2-by-4 and fracturing the man's skull, burglarizing a house, stealing a credit card and carrying a concealed weapon.

        He was transferred to Lucasville, the toughest of Ohio's prisons, in 1995 after he pleaded guilty to assaulting a guard at Warren Correctional Institution.

        Mr. Kerr has attempted several times to be released from prison by filing requests with a Warren County judge. In letters in the early 1990s, he said he had found Jesus and sought help in prison for his drug and alcohol dependency.

        “I am no longer a threat or liability to society because I have learned respect for my fellow man,” he wrote in 1992.

        However, Assistant Prosecutor Joanne Hash argued at the time that Mr. Kerr was a “dangerous offender.” State corrections records show that he is eligible for a parole hearing next April.

       



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