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Vernonia students sent home following bomb scare

by: Darryl Swan, A police tape keeps onlookers at a safe distance from Vernonia schools following a small explosion outside the school cafeteria Thursday.

Two 14-year-old boys from Vernonia were taken into custody Thursday and are being held at the Columbia County Juvenile Department after police determined they were responsible for the placement and detonation of an explosive device behind the Vernonia Middle School.

Vernonia students were sent home at the regular close of the school day Thursday after a small incendiary device was detonated in a trash can behind the school cafeteria.

An estimated 700 students left the school on foot and by bus after a lockdown that lasted about two and a half hours.

Investigators said there are no known injuries from the explosion, which started a small fire. Police continued to comb through the school after the students' departure.

'We want to make sure there's not something else that's going to happen,' said Vernonia Police Chief Mathew Workman.

Workman said there was a 'loud boom' that was described as an explosion at approximately 12:25 p.m. Thursday afternoon.

Authorities have cordoned off a two-block area along Bridge Street while they conduct a sweep of the facilities, which include the middle school, elementary school, and temporary modular buildings used for high school classes since a flood that inundated the little logging community rendered the high school building unusable last December.

Canine units and a bomb squad from the Portland Police Bureau are on site, as are police officers from Scappoose, Vernonia, Clatskanie, St. Helens and Columbia County.

Workman said authorities already have some suspects in the case who are thought to be Vernonia students.

"We have been pointed in the direction of two suspects," said Workman.

Parents are waiting anxiously while the police conduct their investigation.

'I've got two kids in there,' said Scott Stevens of Vernonia, who was working nearby when he heard about the explosion from a neighbor. 'I thought he was kidding.'

Apparently almost 30 minutes elapsed before school officials called the police, according to Scappoose Police Chief Doug Greisen, incident commander at the site. Greisen did not offer any explanation for the lag time between the explosion and when it was called in.