Phone calls prompt school evacuation Police clear building in wake of threats

September 30, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Police cleared out Crofton Middle School yesterday after the school received threatening, incoherent phone calls.

When police, told that the calls might have come from Michael W. Graham, the school's head custodian, went to Graham's Caroline County home, he was found smoking marijuana in his front yard "because he was poisoned with radon gas," police reported that the custodian told them.

Over the weekend, school staff members received 15 to 20 calls at their homes in which the caller used language so "disoriented [and] accusatory [that] it was enough to scare people into believing something unfortunate might happen," said Michael Walsh, a school spokesman.

A teacher who received one of the calls said the caller didn't threaten students or the school building. She said the caller told her he had had disagreements with the principal and was planning to "bring [Principal Richard] Berzinski down."

Yesterday morning, "a variety of school system employees, including school-based and central office employees," received calls that were "rambling, very odd, emotional kinds of phone messages and comments," said Kenneth P. Lawson, associate superintendent for instruction and student services.

Lawson would not elaborate on the content of the calls, which are under investigation.

He said he had not heard of a similar incident in his 28 years with the county school system.

Berzinski called Anne Arundel County police, who evacuated the school building yesterday morning and sent in dogs.

"Please be advised that we conducted an emergency evacuation of Crofton Middle School today at 11: 20 a.m.," Berzinski wrote in a letter to parents and guardians of the school's 964 students.

"At my request the Anne Arundel County Police conducted a thorough search of the building. The building was re-occupied at 12: 30 p.m."

He said police found the building was safe.

County police said they were worried about Graham's mental state and suggested about 12: 45 p.m. that state troopers check on Graham, who lives in the 16000 block of Jones Road in Henderson, about 45 miles from the Bay Bridge.

Trooper Christopher D. Emrick of the Denton detachment said, "We had word that he might possibly be in possession of a handgun or weapon. We were just advised that he made threats to a person over in Anne Arundel County."

Emrick said that when he pulled up, he found Graham sitting outside his home smoking marijuana from a pipe.

"He stated that he was smoking the marijuana because he was poisoned with radon gas," Emrick said. "He said he was sorry; he didn't want to cause any problems; he just wanted to help the kids in the schools.

"He stated that he wanted to let the people know about the radon gas and asbestos in schools, and that a principal was keeping him from going to the press."

The 15-year-old school installed a new air-conditioning and heating system about three years ago, "so the air quality was pretty good," said Walsh. But the teacher said that at least seven students had been sent home this school year and that the school had acknowledged in a staff meeting that the students became sick because of the air quality in the building.

Emrick said that when he searched Graham's gold 1995 Mitsubishi, he found a bag of something that looked like marijuana in a compartment in the front seat and a second brass pipe containing what he believed was marijuana residue.

Emrick arrested Graham on charges of drug use and possession of drug paraphernalia, and took him to the Denton barracks, where he was being held yesterday.

He was to go before a bail commissioner before midnight last night to determine whether he was eligible for release.

County police said they didn't know whether charges would be filed in connection with the phone calls.

Pub Date: 9/30/97

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