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Armida Stathas tries to reach her grandson on her cell phone outside the fence at Abbott Middle School in San Mateo, Calif. on Monday, August 24, 2009. Nearby Hillsdale High School was evacuated at shortly after 8 am when a former student allegedly set off some sort of explosive device in the school hallway prior to school. No one was injured from the blast and the a person has been taken into custody. Students were evacuated onto the playground at Abbott Middle School where their parents could pick them up. (Dan Honda/Staff)

SAN MATEO — Police arrested a 17-year-old former Hillsdale High School student who they say set off two explosions at the school Monday and had eight pipe bombs strapped to his chest when he was tackled by a teacher. No one was injured.

The unidentified boy, a San Mateo resident who had not attended the school for more than a year, was arrested just after the second blast about 8 a.m. at 3115 Del Monte St.

The remaining eight bombs were strapped to his chest in a military-style vest, San Mateo police Chief Susan Manheimer said during a news conference.

The teen detonated the bombs in the north west hallway of the academic wing near the library, police said.

After the explosions, English-language development teacher Kennet Santana-Gomez tackled the intruder, said Linda Lees Dwyer, a trustee for the San Mateo Union High School District.

"I congratulated him on stopping the alleged assailant," Lees Dwyer said. "He was very brave. It was heroic. He took him down to the ground with a bear hug."

Santana-Gomez and Hillsdale Principal Jeff Gilbert pinned the teen to the ground until police arrived minutes later.

"It's just what needed to be done," Gilbert said after the news conference.

Despite reports received by police, the youth had no gun, but he did have a 2-foot sword attached to his vest and a chain saw, Manheimer said. She said detectives think the teen acted alone, but did not say whom he may have been targeting.


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There wasn't much damage to the building, Gilbert said.

School authorities said the school will be closed today.

They said counselors will be on campus to meet with students and teachers when the school reopens, and families whose children attend the school should check the district Web site at www.smuhsd.org for updates.

The scene of the attack was a terrifying one for teachers and students at Hillsdale. Witnesses said the electricity went out minutes before they heard the first of two explosions, though Manheimer said detectives haven't confirmed that report. At the same time, police were on the way to the campus in response to a teacher's report that he had seen a former student on campus with a gun.

Sophomore Callie Robertson was in history class when she heard an explosion that she said sounded like it was in the hallway outside her room.

"We thought he was going to come into the room and take somebody hostage," she said while leaving Abbott Middle School, which is where Hillsdale's 1,270 students were sent after the school was evacuated.

The scene became confusing, witnesses said, as teachers called for help and students were told to go to Abbott.

Raw footage on KTVU.com showed police handcuffing a young man with a shaved head and beard wearing a white T-shirt and white shorts. Officers put him into a police car.

Police said the remaining eight devices were detonated at the scene by the San Mateo County bomb squad. Manheimer said authorities searched the young man's home, but did not say if additional explosives were found.

Authorities said the teen will face charges, but it was not clear what charges he would face, said Karen Guidotti, assistant deputy district attorney.

Mary Kathryn Souther, a 15-year-old sophomore, was in history class when the scene began to unfold. "We were doing group work," she said, "and then there was a huge bang. It sounded like a gunshot. I was terrified."

The noise seemed to have come from just outside her classroom in the Marrakech hallway in the northwest part of campus, the teen said, and her teacher went to check on it.

The teacher "came back in and locked the door and told us to sit against the wall on the other side of the classroom," the girl said. The teacher told her students that she saw "someone in the hall holding something. The teacher knew him. He was a former student."

Mary Kathryn's family lives near Hillsdale High, and her mother, Lisa Souther, noticed the police activity around the campus.

"They had big guns. That scared me. I was petrified. I was crying," she said.

But Lisa Souther commended the school on a smooth evacuation in which parents were notified that they could pick up their children at Abbott.

"I think the administration did an amazing job," she said. "Everything was organized."

A crisis agreement between the San Mateo Union High School District and San Mateo-Foster City School District made Abbott the evacuation site for Hillsdale students.

The Hillsdale students waited on the Abbott blacktop for their parents, who formed a line about a block long to get into the yard to bring home their children.

Meanwhile, Abbott students "attended to their business, were respectful, listened and responded to direction," Rosas said.

In a statement, San Mateo district officials reported that no students, staff members or faculty were hurt at Hillsdale.

"All other schools in the district will remain open as this was an isolated incident," the statement said.

Staff writer Mike Rosenberg contributed to this story.