Parents at the exclusive private school that employs the wife of Navy skipper Will Rogers III are voicing growing fears about her returning to the classroom, and a school trustee said her future “could very well” be discussed at an emergency meeting today.
The meeting comes two days after a bomb threat called in to the La Jolla Country Day School on Tuesday. Police found no bomb, but the incident fueled concern among parents about student safety if Sharon Rogers--who escaped unharmed when a bomb exploded under her van last week--returns to her fourth-grade classroom.
“Yes, we’re all concerned about the security of our children and we feel that her presence on the campus, at this point, is not good,” said one parent who asked not to be identified. “I think parents would prefer that she would stay away for the rest of the school year.”
Houshmand Aftahi, a member of the school’s board of trustees, said he has heard that parents are fearful about the safety of their children when Sharon Rogers returns after a two-week spring break.
“Yes, I hear that some parents are concerned and they want to know what the school is going to do about it,” Aftahi said.
New Security Measures
Headmaster Timothy M. Burns held a school assembly Monday to outline new security measures at the campus and sent a memo home to parents to describe the precautions.
The memo said that Sharon Rogers, who is under tight military guard with her husband on a San Diego area naval base, would not return immediately, the unidentified parent said. The memo also told parents that security guards would be posted at the school gates and classrooms would be searched every morning, the parent said.
Meanwhile, lack of physical evidence or other clues poses a major hurdle to agents investigating the bomb that exploded under the van being driven by Sharon Rogers last Friday, experts in bomb cases said Wednesday.
FBI agents would not characterize their progress, but the lack of gunpowder residue or other physical evidence left by the blast should be considered a serious setback in solving the case, the outside experts said.
Steve Gardella, a San Diego private consultant on terrorism and former vice president of security for Pacific Southwest Airlines, said pipe bombings are especially difficult to solve. With as little evidence as the FBI appears to have it can be impossible, he said.
“There are many difficulties in a case like this,” he said. “There are no precedents in this type of device.
Federal sources have said the FBI has gathered little at the scene of the bombing in La Jolla from which Rogers’ wife Sharon escaped unharmed, or at the couple’s nearby home. One federal source said that some evidence may have been lost at the Rogers’ home when the San Diego Sheriff’s Office used explosive-sniffing dogs to check for more bombs.
Sgt. Conrad Grayson, commander of the San Diego County sheriff’s arson-explosives unit, said local law enforcement officials have been successful at making arrests in most of those cases in which the bombs have been detonated, but not because of physical evidence found at the scene. Instead, he said, arrests are made after follow-up investigations reveal the identities of someone threatening the victim.
In this case, however, Rogers has been unable to offer any suggestion as to who would want to harm him. Speculation has included Muslims loyal to Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who might want to retaliate for Rogers’ order to down an airliner mistaken for an military jet fighter in the Persian Gulf.
Law enforcement officials in San Diego and elsewhere said pipe bombs similar to that used to blow up the Rogerses’ van are a favorite weapon of many violent elements, including drug dealers and motorcycle groups. “Pipe bombs are very, very common,” said Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms special agent Robert Wall in Washington.
There was a brief flurry of excitement in the investigation Wednesday after a man with a “thick Middle Eastern accent” telephoned radio station KNX in Los Angeles and claimed that a group calling itself Guardians of the Islamic Revolution was responsible for the bombing.
The caller, who claimed to be a member of the group, linked the bombing to the airliner tragedy and threatened additional attacks against Sharon Rogers and “all the American officers and officials,” according to Roger Nadel, executive news producer of the radio news station. The station immediately contacted the FBI, he said.
An FBI spokesman in Washington said: “The bureau will investigate the receipt of the call and the information to see if it has any relevance to the bombing of Capt. Rogers’ vehicle.” The spokesman said the FBI was taking the call “seriously.”
However, others discounted the role of any group calling itself Guardians of the Islamic Revolution. As one government anti-terrorism expert put it Wednesday: “These folks are in the claiming business. I’m sure the FBI is not too excited about this development.”
A caller used that name to claim responsibility for the Dec. 21, 1988, downing of Pan American Flight 103 over Scotland and the crippling of a United Airlines plane near Hawaii. But investigators have determined that the United incident was caused by a faulty cargo door and not an explosive as the caller claimed, and a group by that name is not suspected in the Flight 103 incident.
Times staff writers Jane Fritsch and Richard A. Serrano contributed to this story from San Diego. Staff writer Ronald Ostrow reported from Washington.