School officials check Web, find no proof of any threat

Administrators react to rumors predicting violence Monday

May 07, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman and Jill Hudson Neal | Erika D. Peterman and Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

Some Howard County school officials turned to the Internet to help calm anxiety that some say the Internet fueled.

With rumors abounding about possible violence at schools Monday, River Hill High School Principal Scott Pfeifer discussed Wednesday's bomb threat -- which turned out to be a hoax -- and stressed that there was no proof the school was in danger.

"River Hill High School or district administrators have received no, I repeat, no information that River Hill High School will be targeted in any way on Monday, May 10 or any other day in the future," Pfeifer wrote in one of a number of messages exchanged among parents, students and administrators on the school's unofficial e-mail network.

Pfeifer, top county school officials and the county police chief found themselves fighting rumor, conjecture and hearsay yesterday.

No one knew what was supposed to happen Monday, but the news spread quickly by word-of-mouth that it would be bad.

Authorities searched for clues on the Internet and turned up empty-handed.

"It goes without saying that rumors and hysteria about a possible attack on May 10 are rampant and growing," Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said during a news conference. "We have yet to locate a single person who has seen a Web site. It appears that one does not exist. This same phenomenon is sweeping the nation."

At Centennial High School in Ellicott City, the halls were abuzz with gossip about how the May 10 doomsday scenario would play out in Howard County. While some said they would stay at home, others dismissed the scuttlebutt.

Kristen Friend, a 15-year-old freshman, said she would attend school as usual.

"A lot of kids they're just using it as an excuse not to come to school," she said. "I'll be here on Monday."

Arielle Burke, a 17-year-old senior, agreed.

"I don't think it's gonna happen," she said. "It may be a gross joke. I don't see them as serious."

Donna Thewes, a North Laurel resident with three school-age children, acknowledges that the rumors have unnerved her, but she said she intends to send her youngsters to school.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about May 10th," Thewes said. "Any parent who isn't concerned is a nut. But I'm not gonna let these nuts affect me. I'm very comfortable with how things are being run in the high schools and middle schools.

"I think the schools are right in saying this is a day of school," Thewes said. "It's not an excused absence."

Elizabeth Riordon, who has two children at River Hill High School, said her children probably are more concerned about the rumor than she is. She also said she believes that someone planning to harm a school might warn people of the date.

However, "I wouldn't hesitate to go ahead and keep them home on the 10th if things seem to be getting more serious," Riordon said. "I think a day at school isn't as important as my child's safety."

School officials are taking steps to address the fear left in the wake of the killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

At 7 p.m. May 24, the Centennial High PTSA will sponsor a town meeting to address the community's concerns.

Howard County schools security officer Steve Drummond and James McGee -- author of a psychological profile of a so-called "classroom avenger" -- will speak.

"It doesn't take much for rumors to start flying," said Howard County Executive James N. Robey.

"Any idiot can pick up the phone and start a rumor about something that's going to happen at a school. After what happened in Colorado, I would say, yeah, parents should be concerned. But they should know that we're going to do anything we can to ensure the safety of their children."

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