School canceled Friday for students after second day of mysterious odor

Natalia Molina, Website Editor-in-Chief

There is no school Friday after several students were hospitalized following a strong odor circulating around the school for a second day.

According to a message sent to parents just after 7 p.m. Thursday, the district is still investigating the cause of the smell and having no school Friday will allow contractors to continue an investigation into the source.

“There were no findings with the smoke test,” the campus sent through a text message and email. “We encourage anyone with information to contact campus administration or make a report through the Anonymous Alerts app.”

Students evacuated to the football field around 1 p.m. Thursday, May 5. (Photo by: Stephen Green)

On WEDNESDAY, the campus first evacuated just before 7 a.m. after the smell of gas was reported near the cafeteria. Administration called the fire department to investigate the smell and students were moved to the football field before eventually returning to the building at second period.

“The Caney Creek Fire Department and CISD Maintenance Department are investigating the source, and gas has been shut off to the building while the matter is being addressed,” Principal Dr. Jeff Stichler said in a message. “We anticipate being able to re-enter the building shortly. Preparations have been made for cold lunches if necessary, and fans are being brought in to help circulate the air. Thank you for your patience and understanding this morning.”

The odor eventually spread and became stronger across all parts of campus, moving throughout the building. At 12:26 p.m., administrators canceled school and sent students home early around 1 p.m. Before that, students in the hardest-hit areas like the 4100, 4200, and 4300 hallways were all displaced to the main gym because of the strong odor.

Incoming principal, and current associate principal of instruction, Dr. Terri Benson, called a faculty meeting after school where she addressed the gas leak concerns at 1:34 p.m. shortly after students were dismissed.

The Caney Creek Fire Department and Conroe ISD maintenance workers tested throughout the building to solve the problem, but it was only getting worse as time went by according to her.

Benson said she then got a call from the district Superintendent Dr. Curtis Null, and they managed to arrange buses to dismiss students at 1 p.m. instead of normal dismissal.

“We pushed up the chain in command and I got a phone call from Dr. Null that said we could have buses there at 1 o’clock if you can get it arranged and I said, ‘Get the buses here,’” Benson said. “So all of the district made it happen that they got the buses here.”

Throughout the midst of it all, the school was never in any sort of imminent danger, Benson said.

“I called Barbara Robertson (the district director of health services), I called the Center for Disease Control, we were never in any kind of danger,” she said. “But the reality is: Is there much learning going on when we have headaches and nausea and sore throats? No. When we have to displace half the building is there any learning going on? No. Do we get the kids out and have maintenance do what they need to do to solve the problem right now? Yes. So, maintenance is going to start working right now instead of waiting until 3 (p.m.).”

However, the cause of the odor was still unknown as of Wednesday afternoon.

“We want to get it fixed and resolved, and right now we don’t have an answer as what the cause was,” Benson said.

Faculty and staff set up water stations around the football field after being evacuated to the around 1 p.m. Thursday, May 4. (Photo by: Stephen Green)

THURSDAY morning, the smell was gone from the building after workers spent the night looking for the problem, coming up empty-handed except for many negative tests.

“We are off to a great start today at CCHS! The building is open, there is no unusual odor, and students are in the building learning!” Stichler sent at 9:58 a.m. “Thank you again to the CISD Maintenance Department for working throughout the night trying to identify the source of the odor, and then putting mitigation efforts in place. Parents, we appreciate your support and your feedback regarding this situation. As always, we will continue to work with you on any aspect that affects your student and their learning outcomes.”

The odor remained that way until just before the end of A Lunch around 11:30 a.m. At that time, the odor suddenly returned on two ends of the building: in the fine arts/athletics wing and near the 3200/3400 hallways. Reports started coming in from other parts of the building after that.

Initially, Caney Creek Fire Department firefighters and campus conducted a partial evacuation of the building until the odor began to spread further. Several students were checked out by EMS, including several who complained of headaches and were transported to area hospitals. At around noon, the entire campus began the evacuation process first to fire drill positions, then very soon after faculty and staff corralled students to the football field per emergency protocol.

Faculty and staff set up water stations and unlocked the field bathrooms, as well as the softball field, for the evacuees to use while they waited. Faculty and students also brought out all manner of sports equipment and games to play to make the best of the situation. Many sat and talked with friends, played games, or talked with family on the phone while waiting for the go-ahead to leave.

Students riding vehicles or with parents were able to leave starting at 12:45 p.m. with bus riders leaving at 1:15 p.m.

Stichler sent a lengthy update at 4 p.m., explaining the efforts taken over the last two days.

“Thank you for your continued support and understanding as we navigated a variety of issues over the past few weeks,” Stichler said in an email Thursday just before 4 p.m. “I am so proud of the way our Caney Creek Family comes together to support one another.”

“As you know, yesterday, the Caney Creek Fire Department and an outside consultant tested and cleared the building, and the Conroe ISD Custodial Department deep cleaned the campus last night. District plumbers checked pipes and vents and remained on site today. Odor neutralizers were placed in the air handlers to freshen the air, and the air conditioners ran through the night in preparation for school today. ”

“Unfortunately, the smell returned today at approximately 11:30 a.m. This afternoon, two separate hazmat teams, one from the City of Conroe and one from The Woodlands, assessed the building and found no hazardous chemicals in the air in multiple rounds of testing; they only found water and oxygen in the samples. Experts are currently conducting “smoke” tests on all plumbing lines and inspecting all air handlers and returns. We have been told by multiple resources using advanced equipment that the presence of natural gas has not been detected on our campus – not yesterday and not today.”

Administrators have not ruled out the odor could be the result of prank, foul-odor spray. They are asking families to speak with their students to find out if they heard anything related to the matter. Reports can also be made 24-hours a day through CISD’s KidChat hotline at 1-888-KidChat (543-2428) or our Anonymous Alerts app.

Stichler thanked the following groups for their handling of the situation: “Caney Creek High School staff, Conroe ISD Maintenance and Custodial Departments, CISD Transportation Department, CISD Police Department, and the CISD Child Nutrition Department, Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management, Caney Creek Fire Department, City of Conroe and The Woodlands hazmat teams, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, Precinct 4 Constable’s Office, and the Montgomery County Hospital District.”

“We will not stop investigating until we have determined the cause and identified a solution,” Stichler wrote. “I will update you as we know more.”

The final message went out Thursday just after 7 p.m. canceling school for students as the investigation continues.


The events of Wednesday and Thursday were the latest in a string of bizarre, unrelated incidents that upended school across the campus.

The nationally followed manhunt for Francisco Oropesa found itself in the center of Caney Creek’s feeder zone, eventually ending in his arrest at a relative’s house near Cut ‘N Shoot. The campus underwent its lockout procedure – no one could enter nor leave the building but activities remain relatively normal inside – only minutes from dismissal for the day. The lockout ended after campus administration was given the clear from law enforcement officials.

Last week, a bomb threat caused an evacuation around noon. After more than five bomb-sniffing dogs and police combed the building, it was deemed safe to enter. Administrators said in a statement that they do not believe the threat to have come from someone in the area.


All of the excitement comes in the middle of preparations for final exams, AP testing and prom, which takes place Saturday, May 6 at the Lone Star Convention Center. Administrators said all AP exams will be rescheduled and prom is still happening. Prom tickets will be sold at the door to eligible teachers, according to a post from the high school on Instagram.