School bomb-threat suspects are locked up Calvert officials hope long detention will deter others

May 09, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Calvert County officials plan to keep two middle school girls locked up for weeks in hopes of stemming an epidemic of school bomb threats they they feel is creeping across their borders from neighboring counties.

The girls -- a 12-year-old from Port Republic and a 13-year-old from Prince Frederick -- were arrested in bomb threats made to Calvert Middle School on April 30 and May 4, said Robert B. Riddle, the county state's attorney. They probably will be detained at least until hearings scheduled for late this month and early next month, he said.

County school and law enforcement officials have adopted harsh measures such as the girls' long detention to fight what they see as another sign of urban life creeping into their rapidly developing county.

"We decided we need to get together and work together to put a stop to it," said Superintendent Jim Hook. Time in a juvenile detention center "sends a very strong message that Calvert County does not take this easily, that we do not consider this as something that's just a prank," he said.

Calvert's 14 school bomb threats this academic year are few compared with 153 in Anne Arundel and 27 in Prince George's counties, but school and law enforcement officials said they are shocked because they usually get one or two a year.

"We wanted to try and nip it in the bud, especially because of the problems Anne Arundel County has had with it," Riddle said.

After 10 threats last month, a dozen representatives from state and county police, the school system, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the state's attorney's office met for about two hours April 29 to decide how to stop the threats. The policy of long detentions came from that meeting. Previously, youths arrested on bomb-threat charges were released to their parents to await hearings.

The girls, now in a juvenile detention center, were the first to be arrested and charged with making bomb threats after the meeting. Their parents could not be reached for comment.

Officials differ on why the rash of bomb threats has occurred, but most point to surrounding counties.

Leon Langley, principal of Northern Middle School, where there were nine threats this year, blamed the influx of newcomers.

"As a lifetime Calvert Countian, I think people come to Calvert County looking for the Calvert County cure -- the beautiful places, smaller communities," he said. "Everybody moves here looking for a good place, but many times they bring with them the same issues that they left behind."

Because the threats began in the northernmost middle schools, the relationship to Anne Arundel County could be significant, Riddle said.

"Many kids there probably have friends who go to Anne Arundel County schools, and they decided that it'd be fun to try it down here," Riddle said.

Prince George's County schools cut the number of bomb threats from 130 last academic year to 27 this year by emphasizing the severity of the charges, said spokeswoman Susan Hubbard. School officials put up posters and made a video showing high school students what would happen if they got arrested -- from being frisked to serving time in a detention center.

In Anne Arundel County, police spokeswoman Carol Frye said the department has tried to publicize each of the 55 bomb-threat arrests made this year as a deterrent.

She said she was surprised by Calvert County's detention policies.

"We've been criticized for just detaining them overnight," Frye said. "Parents of the juveniles are not pleased. They think it's too extreme that they're being detained overnight."

The detentions may be "very difficult for the parents of those particular kids," Riddle said. "But this is not a prank."

He said Calvert officials also plan to speed the juvenile hearing process in bomb-threat cases.

"In the past, if a kid makes a bomb threat in October, sometimes the trial doesn't happen until the summer, and school's out then," Riddle said. A speedier trial will get across the message about the consequences of making bomb threats, he said.

The Department of Juvenile Justice and his office are putting bomb-threat cases "at the top of the pile" and are planning a "substantial period of community service" for those convicted, Riddle said.

Ann Tupa, Northern Middle School's PTA president, said the parents she has talked to support the toughened rules "100 percent."

Langley said many Calvert residents seem to support the county's new stand.

Bomb threats are "upsetting to the community and disruptive to the education process," said Langley, who said teachers at Northern Middle began to take work along during evacuations "so that students know it's not playtime.

"Kids need to see the consequences of their actions," Langley said. "After they see what has happened to others, anyone who does it is truly stupid."

Pub Date: 5/09/98

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