MARTINEZ -- The man whose threats put several Contra Costa schools on edge over the past two weeks was put behind bars Friday, with police saying the threats were part of the suspect's scheme to tarnish a former friend's reputation.
Larry Bantola, 36, was arrested after a morning raid at his Antioch home, where officers from Martinez, Pleasant Hill, Concord, Walnut Creek and Antioch recovered evidence linking him to the string of threats sent via mail, email and fax.
Martinez police Lt. Jon Sylvia said the messages had a common signature. After police questioned that person, they developed a trail that led to Bantola. Sylvia said Bantola had a falling out with the person whose name was written on the threats -- whose identity was not revealed -- and made the threats in the other person's name to get revenge.
What remains unclear is why Bantola chose to target schools in Martinez, Concord and Pleasant Hill, prompting stepped-up police patrols, early dismissals and parents keeping their kids home. None of the threats were ever deemed credible.
Police say Bantola has no known connections to any of the threatened schools.
"We're still trying to figure that out," Sylvia said.
The sequence of threats began with an email sent Oct. 13 to Alhambra High School in Martinez, warning something bad could happen the next day. That was followed by a fax to Concord High School a week later threatening a shooting the morning of Oct.
On Wednesday, letters making "graphic" requests of children were sent to John Swett Elementary School and two private schools, all in Martinez, and a threatening letter was received Thursday at Valhalla Elementary School in Pleasant Hill.
The cumulative cost of the threats has come in the form of shortened school days, increased police presence on campuses and, perhaps most significantly, loss of badly needed state funding directly tied to student attendance. At Concord High, approximately half of the 1,600 students stayed away from class the day after the threat was made.
"This disrupts a lot of lives," Sylvia said. "And the resources from law enforcement are significant. We take these cases seriously."
Bantola was scheduled to be booked into County Jail in Martinez on suspicion of seven counts of criminal threats, and will be held on $350,000 bail.
Parents in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District were notified of the arrest via an automated message delivered by email and phone Friday afternoon.
"We would like to thank law enforcement for working so quickly and efficiently to apprehend the suspect and keep us safe," Greg Rolen, the general counsel for the district, said in the message. "We also want to give our thanks to parents and staff for remaining vigilant in ensuring the safety of our children and our schools."
Robert Salonga covers public safety. Contact him at 925-943-8013. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.