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Boston blasts bring scary Riverton Homecoming incident to mind

Apr 23, 2013 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

Few of us will ever forget April 15, 2013 when the two bombs, placed by two brothers, destroyed innocent lives in Boston and weakened us all.

Sept. 17, 1992 was almost that day for Riverton. The similarities are chilling.

It was the Thursday of homecoming week, one of the city's celebrated annual fall traditions. Lots of students, parents, the football team, coaches, the band, cheerleaders, and brothers and sisters of high schoolers were all going to be at the big bonfire.

A bomb was there also.

Just like Patriots Day is in Boston, Homecoming is a time we celebrate every year. In a small town, the annual bonfire is a big deal.

Everyone who was involved in Homecoming 1992 agrees on one thing. Had the pipe bomb not been discovered and the bonfire lit,

the consequences would have been hellish, with injuries and, likely, fatalities.

A Riverton policeman who watched the detonation of the bomb the next day said, "It blew up like hell."

The bonfire that year had been constructed with wooden pallets, full of nails, and the hot, flaming material would have been transformed into explosive missiles, just like the shrapnel the police reported from the bomb itself. Some of the 50-plus steel pieces discovered the next day after detonation were 5 inches long and 2-3 inches wide.

We were so, so lucky.

What most agree happened on that lucky Thursday is that two to three hours before the bonfire festivities were set to start, a student talking about the bomb was overheard by a lifeguard at the Riverton Aquatic Center, who told custodian Tim Glenn, who told principal Steve Roberts, who got superintendent Weldon Shelly and the Riverton fire and police departments involved. Other reports said a student with knowledge of the bomb tipped off an RHS staff member.

Then -- surprising compared to today's high-tech and intensely careful methods of bomb disposal -- custodians Pat Long and Dave Thomas were asked to find the bomb, which they did. They knew by then that the device had been hidden in a wooden cable spool. They dug into the wooden pile, found the spool, knocked out a slat, pulled out the bomb, and gave it to the fire department.

Those guys are heroes. I'm sure there are other heroes from that day too.

So haunting to Roberts, the principal at the time, was the thought of what might have happened under his watch, that his whole life changed. He wasn't sure if the bomb was an attack aimed at him, his students or a joke that almost went horribly bad. It was the trigger, he recalled Monday, that caused him to announce his resignation one week later. His dreams after, he added, were nightmarish, vivid and horrible.

Mel Baldwin, the assistant superintendent of Riverton schools at the time, believes the bomb would have wiped out many in the crowd. His daughter, who chaired Homecoming festivities that year, would have been right in the front row, cheering and dancing with her classmates.

Current Riverton school board chairman Mark Stone, who was a member of the Riverton Police Department in 1992, said, "I'm not sure what would have happened, but it would have been horrible."

Today we know the lessons are that we have to be vigilant, and we have to immediately report things to authorities that seem out of place.

Because, we remember from 1992, it could happen here.

Have a great sports week. Go Big Red!

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