Balto. County police arrest 7 for threats

School bomb hoaxes ebb as educators try to offer reassurance

May 08, 1999|By Kris Antonelli and Dail Willis | Kris Antonelli and Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

As area school officials reassured anxious parents and students yesterday, Baltimore County police said they had charged seven students with making school bomb threats -- the largest cluster of arrests since the Littleton, Colo., shootings sparked a burst of threats.

Those arrests, together with others around the Baltimore region, came as police and educators continued to struggle with classroom disruptions. They dealt with prank phone calls and pepper spray even as they tried to deflect rumors of more violence to come Monday.

However, the tide of hoaxes, notes and threats appeared to be ebbing. Only one school in Baltimore County reported a threat yesterday, said police spokesman Bill Toohey -- a note about a bomb was found on the floor at Old Court Middle School.

"That's a dramatic plunge," Toohey said. "No one has a crystal ball, but certainly we have seen it go down in the past week."

Baltimore City school officials said they have received about 50 bomb threats since April 20, the day of the Littleton shootings, and five students have been arrested -- one of them yesterday.

The Baltimore County arrests all came Thursday, Toohey said.

Four girls -- two 16-year-olds, one 15-year-old and a 12-year-old -- were charged with making bomb threats at Chesapeake High School, Stemmers Run and Deep Creek middle schools and Inverness School.

Police traced the calls to one girl's house and after questioning her, arrested her and the other three, Toohey said. They were charged with making a false bomb threat and disrupting school activities, both misdemeanors.

Two pupils at Stemmers Run -- a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old -- were charged with disrupting school activities after a classmate told a teacher the 13-year-old had information about bomb-making on a computer disk and the 12-year-old told a classmate not to enter a school bathroom because there was a bomb in it.

A 13-year-old at Arbutus Middle School was charged with making a false bomb threat by leaving a note in another pupil's locker threatening to blow up three people, Toohey said.

The pupils, who were not identified because they are juveniles, were released to their parents, Toohey said.

At Annapolis High School yesterday, police charged a 17-year-old with disorderly conduct after he allegedly sprayed pepper spray in at least two school hallways. Police said about 20 students were affected, but no one was hospitalized. Firefighters used fans to blow the spray out of the school.

Parents, students and educators nationally have been on edge since the Littleton shootings, in which 15 people died. There have been threats of violence in Baltimore-area schools nearly every day since April 20; none of them has come to pass. And no one can find any significance to the May 10 date -- rumored to be a day of violence in the schools.

Still, state school officials, noting the rumors and disruptions, have decided to delay until Tuesday the beginning of standardized testing for third- and eighth-graders.

Anne Arundel Superintendent Carol S. Parham and Baltimore County Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione urged parents to send their children to school Monday despite the rumors.

"Previous dates rumored for school disruptions have come and gone without incident, and we anticipate the same for May 10," Marchione wrote in a letter sent home to parents. "Schools will be open on Monday. We expect all students to attend."

In her letter, Parham urged anyone with information about threats to call the county school hot line, 1-888-466-0888.

"Please know that we are taking any and all of these threats very seriously and are following up on each and everyone," she wrote.

Anne Arundel Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan joined Parham at a news briefing yesterday at school headquarters in Annapolis to say an extensive investigation has uncovered nothing to support rumors that violence will break out at schools Monday.

Reports that the threats were on the Internet or posted on Web pages are unfounded, he said.

"My neighbors have asked me if they should send their kids to school Monday and my answer is firmly, yes, they should go to school," Shanahan said.

Parham and Shanahan would not reveal the exact security measures being taken in Anne Arundel schools, but Lt. Jeff Kelly, a county police spokesman, said officers will choose schools at random to sweep with bomb-detecting dogs and to patrol during the day.

Anne Arundel police and school officials say they have had fewer than 10 bomb threats since the Colorado shootings. Jane Doyle, a school spokeswoman, said that is no more or less than what they normally receive at this time of year.

Toohey said Baltimore County police would continue to deploy community outreach officers in the schools.

Also yesterday, Parham met with Arundel religious leaders who plan to have at least 30 clergymen in schools Monday. The meeting at school headquarters was called by the Rev. Larry Thomas, president of the United Black Clergy.

The ministers said they will help provide additional adult supervision and do anything else to help administrators and students get through the day.

"We obviously can't go in there and evangelize," said the Rev. Virgil Boysaw of the Interfaith Christian Ministries in Gambrills. "But Dr. Parham realizes that because of this hysteria, the faith community should be involved."

Sun staff writer Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 5/08/99

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