Suspect arrested, but Fort Hamilton High School community still shaken by repeated bomb threats

fort hamilton high school
Fort Hamilton High School was evacuated Monday morning, May 16, after someone phoned in a bomb threat.
File photo

An 18-year-old Fort Hamilton High School student was arrested Thursday in connection to a string of unfounded bomb threats at the Bay Ridge school.

The teen has been charged with falsely reporting an incident and making terroristic threats, according to a Police Department spokesperson.

Students and staff have undergone three evacuations since Monday morning due to the repeated calls. On Wednesday, ahead of the perpetrator’s arrest, parents said they feared the calls would continue throughout the week or even longer at the Bay Ridge school.

The first phone call came in early on May 16, with “copycat” calls phoned in on Tuesday, May 17 and Wednesday, May 18. Each threat came with an NYPD investigation, as well as evacuation for students and faculty, whose work and lives have been uprooted by the false claims.

Tamara Stern, the school’s Parent Teacher Association president, said she’s been getting most of her information on the evacuations from her son, a student at the school, and from local elected officials who have been updating the community on social media.

“We are finding it out on Facebook, way before we find out from the school,” Stern told Brooklyn Paper. “That doesn’t make sense to me at all.”

Stern said she and other parents don’t understand the terminology used by school officials to describe protocols like “soft” versus “hard” lockdowns, and said parents are resorting to just showing up to Fort Hamilton’s sprawling Shore Road building.

“I don’t know if I should show up to school to get my kid, or what to do, or who to call,” she said, “Because the problem when there are these lockdowns, the parents get these messages on Facebook. They get in the car and they drive to school and they don’t understand why they can’t get in.”

The PTA president said she hopes that, moving forward, school officials will better include parents in the training of these emergency responses, so that they know what to do when they happen.

“There need to be a conversation with the parents on what the protocol is when something like this happens,” Stern said. “I think we should have a parent aspect of this so we know when we hear ‘OK, your school is in a soft lockdown,’ what it is, what we need to prepare for.”

Stern is just one of hundreds of parents who have been in a state of panic since the school’s first bomb threat on May 16 — a state, she said, has only worsened as the days, and the threats, go on.

“It’s just scary,” Stern said. “I want to know why [the perpetrator is] doing this, I want them to be prosecuted, I want them to go to jail because how dare you do this to our community.”

When reached by phone for comment about the ongoing threats, Fort Hamilton High School’s Assistant Principal Jennifer Gagnon referred Brooklyn Paper to the city’s Department of Education.

Lasting impact at Fort Hamilton High School

A DOE representative told Brooklyn Paper Wednesday that Fort Hamilton High School is offering students off-campus crisis counselors, as they do in all emergency situations. 

“The school has extensive on-site mental health supports, and, as with all crisis situations, we offer borough-based crisis counselors as additional support,” said spokesperson Nathaniel Styer.

While some students might be enjoying the time off from class, others may see impacts on their mental health from the lack of feeling safe inside their school, which experts say can be directly related to how the institution manages and responds to the situation. 

“Schools tend to have pretty tight protocols on how to manage and respond to these scenarios and children’s immediate response will mirror the response that teachers and school staff have,” wrote Ander Camino, a psychologist based in Brooklyn, in an email to Brooklyn Paper.

He added that parents and teachers need to work hand-in-hand to lessen the impact of these potentially traumatic events on their kids, which he said can usually be achieved if school staff manage the situation calmly and parents hold space for their children to share their feelings and maintain a level of normalcy. 

Students’ histories with trauma can dictate their experience with any scary situation, not just bomb threats, that resembles their traumatic experience if they have one.

“On one end we have each child’s personal history (and presence/absence of trauma or Adverse Childhood Experience),” Camino wrote, “which will probably determine their response to an event that mimics their own trauma experience (if present).”

This isn’t the first time Fort Hamilton High School has come under threats later deemed to be false. Officers from the local 68th Precinct investigated another phoned-in bomb scare at Fort Hamilton last October, which also turned out to be a hoax. Data on the number of lockdowns and evacuations documented at city schools was not immediately available.

Another factor in students’ response to emergency situations like these is how their parents manage stressful experiences, Camino said, as children’s behaviors are often learned from their parental figures. 

“On the other hand, we need to account for their parents’ ability to cope with emergencies since kids tend to do as well as their parents do (and these skills are learned),” said Camino, “and how these children will process the experience will generally involve parents as the facilitators and conduits.”

Jenn Choi, a special education advocate, stressed the importance of school administrations considering the responses of students who may have an inability to speak up for themselves and ask for help — instead of only students who voice their feelings. 

“It is important for schools to be able to anticipate who might have a problem and assess that with people,” she said. “There are students who already have individualized educational plans, and some of them have diagnoses of anxiety, have diagnoses of attentional issues or autism.”

Reaction intensifies

Bay Ridge Councilmember Justin Brannan — one of the area electeds keeping locals most in the know about the ongoing threats — told Brooklyn Paper these calls are no joke for his community, which fears for the safety of their kids, students and themselves. 

“In this day and age, there’s no such thing as a hoax bomb threat or a prank because, no matter what, the fear is very real. This isn’t a joke,”  he said. “The last three days have been incredibly traumatizing for students, families, educators, school staff, and our entire neighborhood.”

Brannan added that law enforcement was working diligently to find the person responsible and that he is confident the DOE is ensuring students have access to counseling. 

“I’ve been working closely with the NYPD and the New York Field Office of the FBI and we are confident our law enforcement partners will identify and apprehend whoever is responsible,” Brannan said. “We are also working with the Department of Education to make sure our students have the counseling and support they need here.”

Congressmember Nicole Malliotakis tweeted Wednesday that the NYPD has installed metal detectors and increased police presence at the school indefinitely. 

“The NYPD has installed metal detectors & will maintain a police presence at the school for the time being,” the pol posted to social media. “The last few days have been extremely disruptive for students and staff. I appreciate the NYPD’s attention to this matter & hope the person responsible is identified quickly.”

On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams warned the perpetrator that the authorities will find them, that they can expect to see consequences for their threats to the safety of the students. 

“The NYPD is on the scene at Fort Hamilton to keep our students safe,” Adams wrote on Twitter. “To the person behind these threats: we will catch you. And you will pay the consequences for terrorizing our children.” 

Speaking to Brooklyn Paper, state Sen. Andrew Gounardes echoed Adams’ promise of prosecution, and expressed concern for students’ mental well being.

“The school community at large is traumatized by this,” the pol said. “Having to evacuate the building — not once, not twice, but three times — that does a lot to someone’s psyche. Not only is this a public safety issue but this is also a mental health issue.”

While his office can only offer support to parents, students, and faculty in this time of need, Gounardes said he hopes that authorities can come through in bringing the perp or perps behind the phone calls to justice.

“Making calls like this is a Class E felony,” he said. “Whoever is caught doing this needs to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We need to make this school feel safe again.”

While the investigation continues, all parents, students and faculty can do is try to find some normalcy.

Stern, a parent of three, said that either way, her son will always remember his 2022-2023 school year at Fort Hamilton High School.

“It’s going to be a year he remembers,” she said.

Update (9:45 am): Shortly after this story was published, a suspect was arrested in connection to the threats.