Two students were in police custody Thursday following a small explosion at Hilo High School.
No students or staff were injured in the blast, but the school went into a lockdown for about an hour and a half to allow police time to find the cause of the explosion and search for other devices. No one was allowed onto or off the campus during that time.
It was not clear Thursday afternoon whether the two 16-year-old boys were attempting to hurt anyone, or if the explosion was a prank.
Hawaii Police Department Lt. Greg Esteban said South Hilo patrol officers responded at 11:34 a.m. after reports that a device had detonated on the school campus.
Officers recovered the remains of a plastic container and an unidentified liquid substance at the scene. The explosive device was a small plastic bottle filled with chemicals that was then sealed and shaken up to begin a reaction, leading to a loud explosion, Esteban said.
“This is something they see on the Internet,” he said. “It’s definitely something that could cause injuries if someone is nearby. … Fortunately, they placed it down in an isolated location in an open corridor during transition between classes, and no one got hurt.”
The bottle bomb left minor residue damage in the area where it exploded, a walkway near the Hilo High auditorium, according to Department of Education spokesman Alex Da Silva. A class was in session in the auditorium, but no one was near the explosion.
Police swept the school with campus security personnel and found no other devices. Students were released around 12:45 p.m. and allowed to continue their day as normal.
During the lockdown, more than a dozen police vehicles were seen parked along the front entrance to the school and blocking the entrances and exits to the school parking lot. Police officers milled around the campus, with some officers directing traffic away from the school.
“I have to pick up my kids at 12:30,” said one woman who drove up on Waianuenue Avenue. “When are you going to be letting them out of the school?”
“They’re not going to be letting anyone out until they’ve processed the scene,” said an officer standing at the entryway. “I really couldn’t tell you how long that will be.”
Media representatives and a curious onlooker stood on the sidewalk, waiting for word, as students in the second-story classrooms across the street at Hilo Intermediate School jockeyed for position to peer out the windows.
“I heard a boom, then they said stay in our classroom and we couldn’t leave,” said 14-year-old freshman Erika Tagalicot. “There was a lot of cops and fire guys here.”
Tagalicot said that despite the incident, she’s not nervous to go back to school.
Debra Palisbo, a 14-year-old freshman, said she didn’t hear the explosion, but was in computer class when one of her classmates got up and walked outside. “I saw a cop put him in the car,” she said.
PTSA president Karen Tollestrup said her daughter texted her that there was a lockdown because of an explosion, but that she was safe. Tollestrup also received two automated phone calls — one saying there was a lockdown and another saying it was lifted.
“I’m always concerned when there’s a lockdown,” she said. “It is Hilo, so I wasn’t totally concerned. But in the news lately there have been so many incidents on the mainland.”
Even closer to home in Honolulu, she said, was Tuesday’s lockdown at Roosevelt High School when an officer shot a knife-wielding teen in the wrist.
“It was because of Roosevelt I thought, ‘Gosh, what if someone shot someone?’ But Hilo is a pretty safe town,” she said.
“The thing I was most concerned about is I didn’t know why they were in lockdown. I guess I would have liked to know at the time why they were in lockdown,” she said. “But I wasn’t concerned to the point I was nervous.”
After she learned some details, she said, “It sounds to me like it was a prank.”
Bill Medeiros, the father of 15-year-old sophomore Sarah Medeiros, said he was initially quite concerned by the automated voice message he received from the school.
“They left a message on my house phone just saying the school was on lockdown, and that was about it,” he said. “You don’t know if they’re calling about your kid specifically, or the whole school. It just wasn’t very specific. So I called the school, maybe 50 or 60 times. I called the police department. Nobody answered.”
Eventually, Medeiros said he got through to his daughter’s cellphone around 1 p.m. after the lockdown ended.
“I called her cellphone 15 or 20 times. … She was in class, and she couldn’t answer it because they’d take it away from her,” he said. “She said ‘I’m fine, I’m safe. Don’t worry about me. It’s all good.’”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.