Student charged in death threats

Carroll teen-ager suspended, accused of making `hit list'

March 15, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin and Jamie Manfuso | Jennifer McMenamin and Jamie Manfuso,SUN STAFF

A South Carroll High School senior whose attorney and classmates said had been bullied at school was arrested Tuesday night after allegedly compiling a "hit list" of students whom he had threatened to kill.

Russell Furr, who turned 18 yesterday, was charged with misdemeanor assault and held Tuesday night in a juvenile detention center after verbally threatening to kill and harm four or five students, police said. Authorities did not identify the teen-ager because he was a juvenile when he was arrested, but friends and classmates of the student arrested identified him as Furr.

Pursuing a tip that the young man had "used various violent names" on the Internet, investigators seized the teen-ager's computer during a search of his family's home in Mount Airy Tuesday night and did not find any guns or explosive materials. They also did not find a list of names but acknowledged that it could have been destroyed.

"We're very aggressive up here in pursuing these cases," said Maryland State Police Lt. Terry L. Katz. "I had five investigators on this case [Tuesday], and that's a lot of manpower. I can't afford - nor can anyone else - to ignore a potential threat, and if we confirm that a threat has been made, then we're going to bring criminal charges. We have zero tolerance for violence in our schools."

After a contentious two-hour hearing yesterday morning in juvenile court, Carroll County Juvenile Master Peter M. Tabatsko returned Furr to his parents' custody and placed him on house arrest with an electronic monitoring bracelet. He also ordered a psychiatric and psychological evaluation before the trial, which is scheduled for April 12.

Furr's family declined to comment through their attorney, Stephen P. Bourexis, who described the teen-ager as a "math genius" and a "quiet, conscientious young man."

Although police and prosecutors said the student was suspended from school last week over the alleged threats, Bourexis said the family pulled their son out of school "to get him out of there" because of constant bullying and friction at school.

"I think a person goes through hell when they go into an environment where they feel like they're being daily harassed and followed home and being told, `We know where you live,'" Bourexis said.

"I think school officials, not just in Carroll County but across the country, need to take the approach of identifying the physical and mental abusers who create an atmosphere of frustration in the school system," he said. "And if someone asks for help because of these abusive situations, I think he should be given therapeutic assistance immediately instead of being turned over to the police."

Asked whether his client had sought that kind of help in school, Bourexis said, "I have no particular comment about this particular case for obvious reasons."

Administrators at South Carroll High, in Winfield about 7 miles northeast of Mount Airy, would say little yesterday about the incident, referring calls to the school system's central office.

Principal George Phillips said only that "we had a smooth day" and that all of yesterday's school activities proceeded as planned.

Phillips had sent home a letter to parents Tuesday regarding rumors swirling about death threats, assuring them that the school takes threats seriously and explaining the procedures school officials follow when they receive information about a threat. He also explained that he "cannot be specific in discussing student discipline matters."

Noting privacy concerns, Cynthia Little, Carroll's director of student services, agreed and said she is unable to discuss particular students. She could not say whether the student arrested had asked for help with classmates harassing him at school and why police were not involved until several days after he was suspended.

"I would really like to be able to share that information, because answering direct questions directly, I'm sure, would help explain some of this," she said. "But if I did, I'd be violating his and his family's rights" under the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.

Little explained that under a policy instituted in Carroll County several months before the deadly April 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in a Denver suburb, a student who makes a serious threat is suspended for one to three days and referred to the local Youth Services Bureau for a mandatory violence assessment. The school system then decides whether the student can return to school, should be placed in alternative education or should be home-schooled.

Flooded with calls from South Carroll parents concerned about their children's safety yesterday, police stepped up patrols of the area around South Carroll High and nearby Liberty High. Plainclothes officers roamed the hallways while uniformed troopers and sheriff's deputies patrolled the perimeter of the school grounds and remained stationed at various points outside the building.

Police learned of the threats Monday evening when South Carroll parents began calling the Maryland State Police Westminster barracks to ask about a student who had been suspended for threatening classmates.

It was unclear why police weren't called when Furr was suspended, which was March 6 or March 8, said Chris Remsburg, a juvenile prosecutor with the Carroll state's attorney's office.

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