Old Mill parents say fear began before stabbing Spate of attacks by youths cited

January 24, 1993|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe and Andrea F. Siegel | Deidre Nerreau McCabe and Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writers

The parents of some Old Mill students say they feared for the safety of children who use a shortcut through woods near Shetlands Lane months before a 14-year-old freshman was found stabbed to death in those woods.

Many have begun driving their children to and from the complex of two middle schools and a high school rather than risk after-school attacks by a group of about eight youths, they said.

And they complained that school officials waited until after the body of Lisa Haenel was discovered Jan. 15 in a ravine 150 feet from the path dozens of youngsters use every day to issue safety tips.

"All of us parents think the schools are just burying their heads," said Debbie Fickert, whose two sons have been attacked. "They have never gotten active in helping kids stay safe."

But Mary Gable, principal of Old Mill Senior High, said teachers and

administrators talk to students regularly, albeit informally, about safety.

Ms. Gable and both middle school principals said they have teachers and administrators patrolling school grounds before school and after.

The middle school principals said safety information has appeared routinely in the school newsletters. The Middle School North newsletter has specifically warned against students using the path to cut between Shetlands Lane and Rainbow View Apartments.

"Children think they are invincible. We are trying to convince young people that things can happen," said Richard Schreiner, Old Mill Middle North principal.

And police deny that the area is unsafe. Most of the problems stem from having so many teen-agers, many of whom walk to school, in one area, they said.

Sgt. Dan Yerkey, who is overseeing investigations into the assaults, said police have spoken to school officials and would speak to parents who are concerned. He said the assaults appear to be isolated incidents.

Meanwhile, police have increased their visibility in the area with as many as five marked cars cruising Shetlands Lane since Lisa's body was found.

But the parents argue that the grounds and paths around the schools are not safe, no matter what police say.

They say groups of youths have jumped unsuspecting students, causing injuries that range from bruised egos to a broken arm.

"In the last year, there's no way I would let [my sons] walk home," said Mrs. Fickert, who makes two round trips each day rather than let her sons walk less than one mile.

On Nov. 9, the boys were attacked by a group of eight youths as they walked home from a wrestling meeting through the woods where Lisa's body was found, she said.

They were scraped and bruised; her 16-year-old was kicked in the head and his new glasses smashed beyond repair.

Kimberly and Bill Ritenour are looking to move from nearby Town & Country apartments because their son, Danny, was assaulted twice walking home from Old Mill Middle North.

The experience has scarred the boy, they said.

"Danny sleeps on my bedroom floor now. He is afraid to sleep in his room -- and he's 13 years old," Mrs. Ritenour said. He is driven to and from school to allay his fears.

JoAnne Seiersen, whose son, Erik, then 13, was jumped by a group of youths Oct. 30, said she fears for the safety of her four children, two of whom are at the high school and two in middle school.

"I used to just count noses. Now I count noses and make sure the noses aren't bleeding," she said.

The schools in the complex are working with county police to put together a safety program Feb. 3 aimed at teaching parents how they can make their communities safer for children, said Old Mill Middle South Principal Edward L. Holshey.

Some parents say school administrators should have been more assertive in dealing with safety issues earlier in the school year and complained they heard nothing about safety until after the murder. Then, they received a one-page letter listing 10 safety tips.

But Ms. Gable said administrators "work very hard to make it a safe environment for our students.

"We take definite action if we are made aware of an incident," she said.

She denied that there are "gangs" preying on students, or that violence has increased in the area, adding that she has received few calls about the issue. She suggested that parents and students are more fearful because of the murder.

"I understand there is fear present. If you didn't have fear at this point, you're not feeling," Ms. Gable said.

But there is little school administrators can do about fights and assaults away from school property, Mr. Schreiner said. "I'm not sure how we would be able to provide the supervision into the community."

But parents said the schools could provide some adult supervision, at least where most students walk.

"The schools are going to have to do something. We don't want to hear they don't have any money. We don't want to hear it's not on school grounds," said Pam Roche, whose son was jumped by seven youths on school grounds Jan. 4. "Kids are being hurt. They are being jumped -- and it's on their way to and from school."

Parents said the school needs more teachers or crossing guards, especially along the stretch of Shetlands Lane from the high school to Elvaton Road, where there is no adult supervision. The area where several assaults have occurred is not visible from the nearest school or crossing guard.

"Ninety percent of the problems take place right around there," Mrs. Fickert said. "That's where they should be patrolling."

Several parents also suggested that the school hold regular assemblies on personal safety. Still others said the school system should provide transportation for more students.

Despite the fears of some parents, many students appeared unfazed by the recent violence occurring so close to their school. And some said they would continue to use wooded pathways if it saves time.

Tim Zaloudek, 17, who walks to school, said he doesn't feel threatened by recent events and will continue walking.

"A lot of kids walk in groups; it's really not that bad," he said.

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