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Youths charged in Vernonia explosion

by: Darryl Swan, Scappoose Police Chief Doug Greisen (center) manages the scene of an explosion in Vernonia on Thursday, March 6. Vernonia School District Superintendent Kenneth Cox is seen at right on the cellular phone. Canine units swept the school buildings and grounds following the 
explosion.

Two 14-year-old youths from Vernonia were arraigned Monday on charges of arson and possession and manufacture of an explosive device after police determined they were responsible for an explosion at the Vernonia Middle School.

The exact nature of the device is still unclear, though it is believed to have been constructed using PVC piping.

The youths were taken into custody and held by the Columbia County Juvenile Department, but have since been released to their parents' care.

The names of the youths responsible for detonating the device are Phil Aronhalt, 14, and Mason Roberts, 14, both from Vernonia.

Students were sent home at the regular close of the school day Thursday, March 6, after the 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 were no 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 cordoned off a two-block area along Bridge Street while they conducted a sweep of the school buildings, which include the middle school, elementary school, and temporary modular buildings used for high school classes since a flood that inundated the logging community rendered the high school unusable last December.

Canine units and a bomb squad from the Portland Police Bureau aided in the bomb sweep, as did police officers from Scappoose, Vernonia, Clatskanie, St. Helens and Columbia County.

Parents waited anxiously behind police tape while the investigation took place.

'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.'