Copy Cat Or Crying Out?
Local schools swamped with bomb threats and rumors following Littleton.
Thursday, May 6, 1999
In 14 years as a school administrator, Principal Richard Knapp had never received a bomb threat. But then two outcasts in a small town not so far away donned long, black trench coats and took a cache of weapons and bombs into their suburban Colorado high school, killed 12 students and a teacher, then turned their guns on themselves.
A week after the Columbine High School massacre, Knapp received his first bomb threat. Two days later, he received a second.
"I don''t know if I can make a direct connection," Knapp says of the events at Columbine on April 20 and the bomb scares that closed his campus at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill during the morning hours of April 26 and 28, "but it sure seems it follows right on the heels of it.''''
Knapp''s school isn''t alone. Local schools and those throughout the nation have logged a rash of bomb threats, student suspensions, wild rumors and violent incidents in the weeks following the shootings in Littleton, Colo. Whether these incidents were actually triggered by the Littleton tragedy or whether they are merely receiving more attention is an open question.
There is no questioning, however, that schools and students are on edge. Locally, at least three students have been suspended for everything from bringing bomb recipes to weapons to campus. Consider:
&bul;On April 27, a 15-year-old freshman at North Monterey County High School was pulled out of class after a teacher noticed he''d doodled the words "boom" and "kill" on a piece of scratch paper, said Sgt. Bruce Palmer with the Monterey County Sheriff''s Department. After the boy met with a series of counselors, his parents were called and they took him to a hospital for evaluation.
&bul;On April 29, a 13-year-old boy was suspended for bringing a loaded gun with him to Pajaro Middle School in Watsonville, evidently as protection against another boy.
&bul;Also on the 29th, a 17-year-old North Salinas High School student was suspended for bringing a knife and a recipe for a homemade bomb to campus.
Earlier that week, the campus was rocked by a series of rumors promising widespread violence that led school administrators to hold an emergency meeting to quell students'' and parents'' concerns. Still, more than half of the school''s 1,600 students stayed home on April 30, apparently out of fear that the rumor--that everybody would be gunned down at noon that day--was true.
&bul;Seaside High School hired private security guards last week in the wake of rumors that violence was planned at the school to commemorate Adolf Hitler''s death on April 30, 1945. Someone also called a local TV station on Friday and reported a possible bomb at Seaside High. Police responded, but no bomb was found.
&bul;And on Monday, several classes were canceled at Hartnell College after a person called police to report that a bomb had been planted in a portable classroom on campus. No bomb was found.
School administrators say that events such as these do occasionally--if rarely--happen on campus. But the recent rash of incidents following so closely on the heels of the Columbine High School massacre raises questions about how strongly students are influenced by the killings.
"These things didn''t happen before Littleton,'''' says Salinas Police Sgt. Tony Heredia, who oversees the five school resource officers who patrol Salinas'' 31 public schools.
Still, he says, it''s hard to know whether the Columbine shootings triggered some students to act more violently--a phenomenon the media has dubbed "copycatting"--or whether the tragedy has prompted students and administrators to pay more attention to events that might have been downplayed in the past.
"The majority of this is the same phenomenon that occurs after any high-profile terrorist activity," Heredia adds. "You have people who emulate or exploit that for whatever reason.''''
Leo St. John, superintendent of the North Monterey County Unified School District, says he thinks incidents like the one in Littleton do prompt kids to act out.
"It''s kids doing dumb things," he says. "Children often do things without thinking, and what they think is cute oftentimes isn''t."
Whatever the causes, recent events have frazzled students and staff.
"Everybody''s in a panic,'''' Heredia says.
Knapp and his staff spent the beginning of this week visiting classes in the 2,000-student Live Oak High School, talking about the bomb scares, quelling fears, and reminding students of their responsibility to report unusual incidents. Counseling has also been made available to students.
The students have returned to North Salinas High and the panic seems to be over, Principal John Favero says.
"Students are being students,'''' he says. In the future, police and school administrators are banking on new resources they hope will ensure campuses are as safe as they can be. In February, the Salinas Police Department applied for a federal grant that would put five additional school resource officers on local campuses. And on Tuesday, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors gave funding to a program that will add five probation officers to campuses in the Salinas Union High School and Monterey Peninsula Unified school districts.
Such help is appreciated, North County''s St. John says, but he cautions that such simple solutions aren''t enough.
Schools have very few resources to truly help troubled kids--many of whom can be pinpointed as soon as they arrive at school at age 5 or 6, he says.
St. John advocates putting family outreach workers in the schools who can help reach troubled students early.
"We''re reaping the results of the dysfunctionality of the families in our society,'''' he says.