TURLOCK — The phone at the day care rang at 10:30 a.m.
"I'm sorry, but I put a bomb outside the school in the alleyway by the bushes," the man said.
Staff at TLC Educational Facility immediately called police and evacuated 43 children from the Colorado Avenue premises. A bomb squad determined the device was a hoax.
"It was definitely made to look like an explosive device," said Turlock Police Sgt. Nino Amirfar. "Items attached to it appeared to be a detonation device."
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The scare made for a tense couple of hours in the east Turlock neighborhood.
Police helped day care staff move the children to nearby Dutcher Middle School, where they stayed in a couple of empty classrooms while their parents were called.
"The kids are doing great," said Anitra Hall, TLC facility manager. She said the staff had not told the children, ranging in age from 2 to 5, why they were leaving the school. "They just like being somewhere new."
Hall said the caller sounded calm and concerned. "He was regretting he’d done it," she said. "He said, 'You need to get out now.’"
Hall said the phone is equipped with caller ID and someone’s name and phone number came up on the display. Amirfar confirmed that police had a name, but he would not release it. He said police are investigating that lead.
Police found a package, about a foot square and wrapped in gray tape, in a bush outside the center, said Sgt. Doug Ravaglioli. They closed down Colorado Avenue, told people in nearby businesses to stay inside, and called in the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department bomb squad.
The squad sent its robot, outfitted with a camera, to the site so deputies could get a closer look. Deputies decided to try to detonate it, so they dug a hole in a field behind the center and sent the robot to move the package to it. The robot fired a water blast into the package, blowing it apart about 1 p.m.
About an hour later, police reopened the street. Though the daycare was allowed to reopen for after-school care, Hall wasn’t sure it would.
"I'd just rather have everybody come back tomorrow," she said.
She said the daycare operated 16 surveillance cameras, including one aimed at the parking lot. A review of the tape from early Monday shows a sport utility vehicle pulling up in the area and someone getting out of the passenger’s seat.
"But it's pretty dark," she said.
The facility has been plagued by break-ins, with burglars taking computers and even gas from the vans, but there’s never been anything violent at the school. Hall said there have been no problems with parents in custody battles or anyone being threatened.
"I just can’t believe someone would do something like this with children in the building."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at 578-2343.