Law enforcement vehicles blocked 18th Street near Dorr Elementary School while a Michigan State Police bomb squad searched the school May 19.

In wake of Dorr school evacuation, township hall searched too

Bomb squads find no explosives; man arrested
By: 
By Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

A 47-year-old Moline man who left a suspicious package at Dorr Elementary School on Monday has been arrested on unrelated charges and is awaiting arraignment at Allegan County Jail. The package contained a toy robot according to Michigan State Police Michigan State Police Detective/Sgt. Matt Doan.

“It was a scary day for all of us,” said Wayland Union Schools board president Gary Wood at a school board meeting Monday, May 19.

That afternoon, officials evacuated Dorr Elementary School around 12:20 p.m. after school security suspected the package was suspicious.

A Michigan State Police bomb squad inspected both the school and also a vehicle at Dorr Township Library belonging to the man police say left the package at the school.

The school’s 650 students, evacuated north along 18th Street to Dorr Township hall and fire station, enjoyed a makeshift field trip to the fire department where they were fed, toured the fire trucks and watched the movie “Cars 2.”

School security officer Harry Werkema said the person of interest also had been at several other area establishments acting suspiciously.

“Given everything accumulated, it was decided to go the route of evacuation—and if we could do it over again, we’d do it again,” Werkema said. “The kids got to the fire station within 5 minutes because that is what they have trained and practiced four or five times this year.”

Superintendent Norman Taylor thanked Dorr’s principal and several other staff members at the meeting who took part in the evacuation, along with emergency responders.

“We want to express our appreciation to the myriads of people—Dorr staff, teachers, food service employees, the nurse, bus drivers, Dorr Township Fire Department, township officials, Wayland EMS, two state police posts, and county and local police,” said Taylor as the board applauded their efforts. “It really does take a village to raise a child.”

Tuesday morning, state police returned to Dorr and evacuated the same township hall in which students had taken shelter on Monday.

Township supervisor Jeff Miling said he called police Tuesday  when he learned the person who caused the school evacuation was the same person who had entered the township hall Monday carrying a satchel and asking for a letter to be delivered.

State police found no evidence of danger in the township hall and a meeting the evacuation had interrupted was able to resume, Miling said.

At Monday’s meeting, Taylor said Dorr Elementary has had several unfortunate incidents this year with power outages and evacuations—from a convict on the loose to a smelly drain backup. However, it was better to be safe than sorry, he said.

Werkema, a retired police officer and acting assistant principal, had been at Dorr Elementary checking the school’s automated external defibrillator units when the incident occurred. He then served as liaison between school officials and police.

Werkema, also an occasional acting principal along with other roles, will be retiring at the end of the school year.

Taylor said the school district and City of Wayland are working together to hire a uniformed police officer who will serve as the school-community service officer in the school district eight months out of the year and serve the City of Wayland four months in summer.

“It will be prorated with a used police vehicle,” Taylor said. “There have been many cases that show having a uniformed presence is a deterrent.”

Taylor also confirmed a new transportation director is in the process of being hired and will be in place by the end of May.

School electrician John Huyck has been named the maintenance supervisor.

Jeff Schilthroat previously served as the transportation and maintenance supervisor. He resigned during a recent investigation into bus bullying not being properly handled.

“As far as cost, it will be a wash, if not less,” Taylor said. One of the three maintenance employees will be the supervisor and, due to recent events, that will give more coverage for transportation.”

Editor Ryan Lewis contributed to this story.

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