Southern employees share experience with bomb threat

Ancheta and Diaz pose for a photo. (Photo courtesy of Kayla Diaz)
Ancheta and Diaz pose for a photo. (Photo courtesy of Kayla Diaz)

Written by: Lesieli Savelio 

On Tuesday, April 18, Chattanooga police arrested a man for making bomb threats near the Chattanooga Convention Center, according to a Chattanooga Times Free Press article

Earlier that day, Southern Adventist University Admissions Counselors Jahnil Ancheta and Kayla Diaz were confronted by the alleged perpetrator — later identified by police as Kendal Lewis — while attending the SkillsUSA college fair at the convention center. 

In an interview with the Accent, Ancheta and Diaz described the experience.

“An hour into the event, we noticed a man approaching our table,” Diaz said. 

Lewis was wearing a big backpack and sunglasses and was smoking a cigarette, the counselors said. 

Ancheta’s and Diaz’s booth was located toward the end of the hallway; Lewis had passed other people along the way and made threats in passing, according to the counselors. They said there was no security at the event. 

“They were supposed to have security; it was in the contract, but they did not,” Ancheta said. “That was pretty concerning, especially with over one thousand high school and college students.”

According to the two counselors, Lewis stopped at their table and threatened them directly.

“He told us he had guns and a bomb and that he was going to blow up the convention center,” Diaz said. “He told us to pretend to be working and to not use our phones.” 

The counselors said they were cornered. The doors behind them were locked, and there was nowhere to go. Another booth existed to their left, but no one was to their right. 

“The people at the table next to us did not notice what was happening at first,” Diaz said, “It was not abnormal to see someone talking to us; that was the nature of the event.” 

The man held them there at their booth for six minutes, making threats, before they could leave.

“Those six minutes felt like an eternity,” Ancheta said. “I thought I might never see my kids again. It was scary.”

After those six minutes, Lewis placed his backpack on their table and told them it had a bomb inside; he also pulled out two phones and said one was the detonator.

“That was when I knew: ‘We have to go,’” Ancheta said. “Kayla told the people next to us, ‘This man is threatening to kill us; please get help.’”

At that point, sheriff deputies, who were recruiting at the event, started walking toward the counselors in response to the other threats Lewis had made in passing.  

“We grabbed hands and ran into the bathroom since he was distracted by the [deputies],” Ancheta said. “That was the only place we could go.” 

After 25 minutes, police alerted Ancheta and Diaz that the perpetrator had gotten away. They were then interviewed and told they could leave. 

Later that afternoon, Lewis was arrested, and it was revealed that an explosives team found clothes, newspapers and other items in his bag, but no explosive materials, according to the Times Free Press article

“The police called us, asked us for a description and told us they had arrested him,” Diaz said. “After that, victim services called us to communicate about next steps and court dates.” 

According to News Channel 9, Lewis was “charged with terroristic threats, two counts of assault, disorderly conduct and possession of a controlled substance.”

 Diaz attended a court hearing in June, but Lewis did not show. The counselors were told the charges could not be processed until he received a mental health assessment. 

“I think the biggest takeaways from this situation are to be aware of your surroundings and to take people seriously,” Diaz said. “Things like this can happen anytime, anywhere. We found out after that he did not have explosives, but what if he did and we did not take him seriously? We could have died. Most importantly, [I learned] to not be afraid to seek help or go to therapy and prioritize mental health after this kind of experience.” 

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