At Anne Arundel school, nothing unusual except the bomb threats from youngsters Elementary in Lothian received eight warnings since classes started in fall

November 27, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Spraying water pistols, pulling pigtails, making fun of how other children look -- such pranks one expects from elementary school pupils. But not delivering notes to the principal threatening to blow up the building.

The penciled threats in childish scrawl highlight the most disturbing aspect of the bomb threats that have hounded administrators at Lothian Elementary School this fall: the age of the perpetrators.

Eight have come to that school from pupils no older than 11, according to the principal. This month, two pupils were arrested and charged as juveniles: One is an 8-year-old Lothian girl; the other, a 10-year-old Riva Estates boy.

"We did take confessions from both," said Lt. Jeff Kelly, a county police spokesman. He said the boy was photographed and fingerprinted, and both were released to their parents.

There's nothing unusual about how the children look or act, nothing distinctive about the school to explain why pupils would want to flee it. Perhaps the only peculiarity is the costly and disruptive tactic that is used to get attention.

"This may be like ringing the doorbell and running away, kind of like 'catch me' behavior," said Ulku Ulgur, a child and adolescent psychologist in Annapolis who has a contract with the school system to treat emotionally disturbed students.

On the other hand, he said, "it could be early signs of psychotic behavior." Without examining the children, "We do not know the real internal factors," he added.

Police have spent more than $75,000 this school year responding to threats at Lothian Elementary, a modest, one-story brick building about 15 miles south of Annapolis. Lothian has received more bomb threats than all but one other Anne Arundel school -- Southern Senior High in Harwood.

"I don't think the kids view it as a serious crime or offense, and just continue to perpetuate the situation," said Principal Max E. Muller.

He said all the threats have been written -- on building walls, bathroom stalls or handed in at the office on white notebook or green paper.

"It almost always looks like a child's handwriting," he said. "It's been in pencil mostly."

The Lothian children making threats differ from more typical bomb-threat makers.

This month, the county's special assistant for student discipline, Huntley J. Cross, worked up an unscientific profile of the 12 youngsters who have been charged countywide with making bomb threats: Most were ninth-grade loners getting low grades and living with both parents, he said.

What perplexes Muller is that the youngsters charged at Lothian do not fit that profile.

"There's nothing unique about the children and nothing that unites them as a group," the principal said. "They dress very much like everyone. You would not identify them as unique in any way."

Also not distinctive is his school, the flash point for the threats. It stands out only in that its 630 students and 23 teachers make the school larger than the average elementary. Student craft projects decorate the halls and the rooms have pint-sized furniture. One room is filled with canned food for the needy.

When a bomb threat is received, Muller said, he notifies county police at the Southern District station in Edgewater, who arrive about 15 minutes later to search the school.

A bomb-sniffing dog spends 35 to 60 minutes checking for explosives. Police focus mostly on the communal areas because "generally, classrooms are monitored, so the likelihood of someone planting an explosive [there] is pretty slight," Muller said.

Also slight is the likelihood that county schools will wipe out the problem, given the limited number of available responses.

Muller said he has tried to emphasize to pupils and parents that students making bomb threats likely would be expelled in addition to receiving a possible 30-day sentence to a juvenile detention center.

Upper-level children are monitored when they use the restrooms, he said. Police officers come into classes to discourage third-, fourth- and fifth-graders from making bomb threats.

"Every time we have an incident," Muller said, "we ask parents to review with children the seriousness of the offense. [We've] sent home more letters than we can count."

Nothing has worked.

Monday, when schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham reopened six schools, including Lothian, so students could make up time lost during evacuations, somebody made another bomb threat at Lothian -- forcing students to miss more time.

Pub Date: 11/27/97

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