Twenty-four hours after a bomb scare rattled the nerves of onlookers at College of the Canyons, investigators are shedding light on what took place at the school and why a decision was made to continue a nearby graduation ceremony.
The situation began Thursday afternoon when a passerby walking parallel to a row of vehicles in Parking Lot No. 8 toward the northwest portal to Cougar Stadium noticed a strange object under a white Dodge Crew Cab pickup truck.
Shortly before 5 p.m., the individual then flagged down a sheriff’s deputy who happened to be in the area and explained the situation.
After visually confirming the informant’s claim, the deputy radioed for assistance and established a perimeter around the mysterious item.
Moments later, several units from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station blocked access to the parking lot serving Cougar Stadium.
Bright yellow police tape strapped to light poles and vehicles marking off a perimeter dangled in the afternoon breeze, garnering the public’s attention.
A small crowd formed as families hoping to settle into a seat inside the stadium mixed in with students unsuccessfully attempting to move their vehicles out of the containment area.
More sirens wailed toward the direction of the college as fire department and American Medical Response resources staged at the northwest end of the cordoned off area.
At 6:06 p.m., students and staff subscribed to the college’s emergency notification alert system received a text and voice message stating Lot 8 at the Valencia campus was shut down due to a reported suspicious item.
At this point, aside from parking, Canyon High School’s planned graduation was to continue unimpeded.
Nineteen minutes later, Eric Harnish, COC’s vice president of public information briefed a small pool of media gathered outside Cougar Stadium.
During the impromptu conference, the spokesman said college officials received a report of a suspicious item and subsequently notified the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Santa Clarita station, located about a mile and a half to the east.
“We’re asking people to please access the campus off of Rockwell Canyon Road and University Center Drive,” Harnish said in Thursday’s briefing.
“The graduation is moving forward as planned,” he added, fulfilling a question about whether or not Canyon High School’s ceremony taking place nearby at the college’s football stadium was still on track.
At 6:33 p.m., the sheriff’s department Special Enforcement Bureau’s Bomb Squad trailer pulled into Lot No. 8 and joined the assembly of medical and law enforcement officials gathered nearby.
Within seven minutes, the zone around the suspicious item was expanded by about 100 feet in each direction. A swelling crowd of about 200 people hoping to enter the stadium from the north were turned away and asked to vacate.
The decision to continue the high school graduation ceremony was reaffirmed.
Several commenters took to The Signal’s social media pages to express discontent with that resolution, but the verdict to continue was made not based on a hunch –– it was bolstered by the laws of physics and the advice of experienced professionals.
According to Detective Jay Yelick of the sheriff’s arsons and explosives detail, the spectators inside the stadium were at a safe distance for the type and size of the device at the focus of their investigation.
After all, the device was underneath a heavy-framed pickup truck parked at the bottom of the berm and separated from the crowd by a hill and a tree line –– therefore, the audience was shielded, Yelick said.
Eighteen minutes after 7 p.m., speakers at the stadium crackled to life. Canyon High’s graduation ceremony officially began.
As a vocalist belted the National Anthem, a robot silhouetted by the setting sun wheeled across the lot and approached the vehicle. Officials hoped to use the bot to retrieve the device located in front of the rear tire on the driver’s side of the targeted pickup truck.
The space between the truck and a car in the adjacent space proved too tight for the robot and distance from the Dodge’s passenger side proved too great.
Enter Detective Jay Yelick.
Using a cable, the bomb investigator suited in protective ballistics gear delicately pulled a long black object from underneath the truck. The robot returned and handled the item from that point.
At 8:30 p.m., fire crews feverishly dug a hole at the north end of Lot No. 8 at Valencia Boulevard. Sandbags were brought in to fortify the trench. Via the robot, the device was dropped into the small crater.
Yelick had hoped for some raucous applause to erupt inside the stadium to somewhat mask what was to occur next.
“I now present the Canyon High School Class of 2017,” a voice echoed from the graduation ceremony signaling the end of event’s ending.
The boisterous ovation Yelick was anticipating came. A loud blast sounded and the device was officially rendered safe.
At 9:16 pm., Harnish returned to the gaggle of news media cameras and explained the device was not a bomb but fabricated to seem as so.
Investigators are working to determine a motive for the act, Yelik said. Though there are no witnesses or any threats received, the detective hopes anyone with information steps forward and ultimately someone is held accountable.