More than 19,000 students poured out of classes across Prince Edward Island on Wednesday after police received a fax from someone threatening to set off bombs at several public schools, and teachers and staff activated emergency evacuation plans.
Students were crying and hugging their parents when Linda Saunders arrived at Spring Park Elementary in Charlottetown to pick up her seven-year-old son Jackson, niece and nephew.
Police had asked parents to wait for further instructions before going to pick up their children, but many, like Ms. Saunders, headed straight to the schools, causing traffic backups.
"Given today's climate and things that you hear on the news every day, you still want to take it seriously, so naturally I was stressed and a little bit upset," Ms. Saunders said.
By lunchtime, RCMP spokesman Sergeant Kevin Baillie confirmed that the threat was found to be not credible. The RCMP notified the province's schools within 10 minutes of learning about the faxed threat, which was sent to the RCMP in Ottawa. More than 60 schools and the postsecondary institutions on Prince Edward Island were evacuated.
"When I arrived at the school it was very well organized, but there were a number of children upset and crying," Ms. Saunders said. "They didn't know where they were supposed to go, or that their parents would know where they were."
The school children were organized by class and loaded onto buses to be transported to safe locations.
Patricia Cole of Kensington, about 40 minutes outside Charlottetown, said she had some anxious moments on Wednesday morning as she texted her twin 14-year-old daughters, Ellen and Paxton. "One of my girls has mild cerebral palsy and I knew that she couldn't stand around too [long] or walk too far," Ms. Cole said.
"You think, 'Gosh, could this happen – with all the things going on in all the different places in the world?' You think we're safe, but nobody is really 100 per cent safe."
Her daughter Ellen, a student at Kensington Intermediate Senior High, said her principal told students over the PA system the school was having an emergency fire drill and to go to the soccer field.
"We were a little anxious because it was a little weird they were evacuating every school," Ellen said.
At the elementary school across the road, Ellen said, some young children were in tears and crying out in panic for their older siblings.
RCMP has also said they are considering whether the fax is connected to threats against three schools in Nova Scotia. The Marconi Campus of Nova Scotia Community College in Cape Breton, NSCC's technology campus in Halifax and Cape Breton University were also evacuated because of threats.
Police searched all evacuated campuses in Nova Scotia, and the schools will reopen on Thursday.
In Halifax, Nayeema Lail's two-year-old daughter Adiva was in the NSCC daycare at the technology campus in Halifax when the fire alarm went off. Ms. Lail, a recent graduate, was in the library working on her laptop when she jumped up and left everything behind.
"I thought that it's the normal fire drill, so it's like a total shock for me to know it's a bomb threat at the IT campus," Ms. Lail said while picking up her daughter.
In PEI, police were asking teachers to be on the lookout for anything suspicious.
Late Wednesday, PEI Public Safety said all public schools would reopen on Thursday.
Police in Winnipeg said the Winnipeg School Division received a similar fax, although no schools were evacuated.
Constable Rob Carver said Winnipeg Police Service had been following the situation in PEI and Nova Scotia.
"Based on the similarities between the nature of our threat and the ones on the coast, we were leaning to the conclusion that the threat here was unfounded," he said.
With a report from The Canadian Press