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This is not a drill

Talia Curtler '23

Dec 9, 2022

At 2:05 pm on December 5, 2022, the Mercersburg student body received an emergency text message urging every student currently located in Irvine Hall or the Burgin Center for the Arts to “evacuate immediately.” Students exited the buildings in orderly fashion and were directed to their rooms until further notice. 

Nathaniel Gotera ‘24 was in the middle of his Calculus III course on the fourth floor of Irvine Hall when received the text and soon evacuated. Nathaniel stated, “I was doubtful of the legitimacy of the threat. It was from TikTok, after all. Nevertheless, it was important to follow protocol.” Meanwhile, Khanh Nguyen ‘25 was in Lenfest when he was instructed to fill out the emergency check-in form mid-class. Since he didn’t see the alert notification until after class, he wasn’t aware of the threat until the aftermath and was quite shocked to hear the news. He shared that he was “impressed with how the school handled the tense situation and how the students remained calm.”

Wild rumors flew, but as the frenzy died down, a common narrative emerged: someone had made a bomb threat. As students waited in their dorm rooms, correspondence from the administration began to arrive. 

“Approximately an hour ago, our communications office received a post on one of the school’s social accounts from a follower who referenced a bomb in the Burgin Center for the Arts and Irvine Hall buildings. The communications team immediately contacted Campus Safety who followed emergency protocols, including alerting state police and sheriff’s offices.” Head of School Quentin McDowell wrote in a school-wide email that was extended to parents as well.  

The social media post in question came as comment on Mercersburg Academy’s official TikTok account, stating “bomb in the burgin and irvine” from a TikTok user. 

“As the social media manager for the school, it is my responsibility to keep a close eye on all of Mercersburg’s social media accounts. My phone is set up to receive notifications whenever one of our accounts receives a comment. I noticed the comment on our TikTok account within eight minutes of it being posted. I immediately shared it with Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications, Amy Marathe, who immediately called Director of Campus Safety, Skip Sydnor. The school’s emergency protocols were then activated,” said Cody Parks, director of social media.

Communications immediately alerted the campus security team, who followed Pennsylvania protocol. According to state law, “In the event that you receive a bomb threat at your work location, it is imperative for your safety and the safety of others that the police having jurisdiction for your area be contacted immediately.” 

Throughout the afternoon and evening, state troopers, a bomb squad, and K9 dogs could be seen on campus around the aforementioned buildings. In the meantime, students proceeded with their regular PGA scheduling until the all clear was given at 6:03 pm by Associate Head of School Jennifer Craig. Once the threat had been cleared, McDowell addressed parents in a letter, stating, "You should be proud of your children who remained calm and followed all directions. We are, as always, so impressed with our students.” 

At the time of this article’s writing, investigations remain underway, and more information will soon be available to the school community.

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