A student at Somerset Middle School on Tuesday morning discovered an explosive device that was filled with gunpowder and placed near a classroom.
No one was injured. The device had a fuse that was lit at some point but failed to ignite, said Sgt. Craig Gundlach, a Modesto Police Department spokesman.
"Whoever placed it there meant for it to explode, but thankfully, the fuse that was lit did not explode the powder inside," Gundlach said.
At 10:25 a.m., officials at Somerset reported the suspicious device to a Modesto police officer at the school. A student had found the object near some portable classrooms and brought it to a campus supervisor. The campus supervisor placed it in a storage shed near the office and notified police.
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School officials cordoned off the area and evacuated the office, said Randy Klinkefus, director of student support services for Sylvan Union School District. No one was allowed near the object.
School officials and officers at the scene removed students from at least four classrooms near the storage shed during the incident, which lasted about 30 minutes, Gundlach said.
Police determined that the device was a modified novelty grenade with explosive material inside.
Gundlach said police are investigating and looking for anyone who may have been involved. The grenade was in an inconspicuous place and it was unclear how long it had been there, he said.
"If it would have detonated, how big an explosion that would have resulted hasn't been determined, and I don't think that we will ever know for sure," Gundlach said. "But it is concerning that a device like this would have been placed on school grounds. And I think we need to leave open the possibility that it could have caused damage to some classrooms. I don't know if it would have caused any injury, but, of course, any explosion raises concern."
He urged anyone who sees such devices to leave them alone and immediately contact authorities. The trouble is, he said, young children don't always know that.
Principal Janice Latham said the school extended lunch so all students were on the football field out of harm's way.
Sylvan Union School District Superintendent John Halverson said the Somerset staff took the situation seriously and worked to create a safe situation.
"A perimeter was established to keep everyone at a sufficient distance. Everything was cordoned off," he said. "We treated it as a live bomb the entire time."
Later, when students were back in class and staff scouted the grounds for anything else unusual, a staff member found what Gundlach said appeared to be a model rocket. Several classrooms were evacuated, Klinkefus said, but that device was determined to be harmless.
Police ask those with information to call CrimeStoppers at 521-4636.
Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2324.