The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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September 11, 2012

Miami police link school bomb threat to extortion attempt

MIAMI, Okla. — A 24-year-old man is in custody following a bizarre attempt Tuesday to extort money from a Miami bank by creating a bomb scare at the town’s high school.

Miami police Chief George Haralson said charges of extortion, making a terroristic threat and misuse of 911 are pending against Bobby Harris in connection with a series of calls he allegedly placed to the local 911 dispatch center and to Welch State Bank at 2525 N. Main St.

Haralson said the first call was placed to the dispatch center at 11:19 a.m. and is believed to have been made on the suspect’s cellphone. He said the caller told the dispatcher: “Bomb. Twenty minutes to find it in Miami High School.”

Police contacted school officials who made a decision to evacuate the high school. Students and staff were ushered to a church west of the school’s parking lot while a walk-through of the high school was conducted by officers in the company of school employees with knowledge of the premises.

In the meantime, Haralson said, police were tracking the cellphone call to an area behind a Catholic church next to the bank on North Main Street about five miles from the high school. He said while officers did not locate him immediately, it turns out that the suspect left his cellphone and backpack behind the church while he walked to the Wal-Mart store at 2415 N. Main St.

The police chief said the suspect placed two more calls from a pay phone at the store. Both calls were made to the bank a block away, demanding large sums of money and threatening to blow up the school if the bank did not comply.

Haralson said those calls were placed about noon and the amount of money the suspect demanded remains under investigation. The police chief said it may have been $3,000 or $30,000.

“He doesn’t remember how much he asked for,” the police chief said. “He had not thought this out very well.”

For instance, Haralson said, it is not known why the suspect decided to make those calls from a pay phone when he already had made the initial call from his cellphone.

A short time later, officers who tracked that call noticed a man in a wooded area behind the Wal-Mart store walking toward the church and then reversing his direction when he spotted police. The suspect was detained moments later and soon admitted to making the bomb threat call and the calls to the bank, Haralson said.

The police chief said Harris was telling officers that the bomb threat was a hoax about the same time that bomb squads from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the Tulsa Police Department were arriving at the high school. Their explosives-sniffing dogs and expertise were used to make certain there was no bomb on school premises. By the time that was determined it was about 2 p.m., and school officials had decided to let students go home for the day.

Harris is an unemployed resident of the Miami area who has been in arrears of late on his child support, according to the police chief.

“That, basically, I think, was his motivation,” Haralson said.

 

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