Schools try to quell concerns

Carroll officials to call on police more often

March 16, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin and Jamie Manfuso | Jennifer McMenamin and Jamie Manfuso,SUN STAFF

In response to parents' concern that they did not move quickly enough with an investigation into a student who allegedly threatened the lives of his classmates, Carroll County school officials said yesterday that they will involve police more quickly -- and more often -- on such cases in the future.

"We handle these things administratively if that's the way we believe it should be handled, but from now on, I probably will involve the police in every single incident because of this one," said Larry Faries, the school system's coordinator of security. "Is that the way it should be? I don't know. But it's what I'm going to do."

South Carroll High School senior Russell Furr, 18, was arrested and charged Tuesday night with misdemeanor assault after he was accused of verbally threatening to kill or harm four or five students and compiling a "hit list" of those he had threatened to kill, police said.

Carroll County Juvenile Master Peter M. Tabatsko returned Furr to his parents' custody and placed him on house arrest with an electronic monitoring bracelet and orders to complete a psychiatric and psychological evaluation before his trial, which is scheduled for April 12.

Police and prosecutors said the student was suspended from school last week as a result of the alleged threats, but defense attorney Stephen P. Bourexis said the family pulled their son out of school because of constant bullying and harassment.

Despite finding ways to improve the handling of school investigations in the future, school officials defended their approach of the case yesterday.

"This thing became bigger as it went along," said South Carroll High Principal George Phillips. "There are no clear areas of black and white here. We have to use some discretion and use our experience. It's easy to sit back and play armchair quarterback after the fact, but we walk a real fine line of confidentiality."

Phillips and Faries said initial information about the threats was vague. As more students came forward with information -- including one girl who told Faries on Tuesday that she had seen the student's list of targets -- officials became concerned enough to contact police.

"To me, that sounded the alarm that this was about more than rumor and innuendo," said Faries, a retired Maryland State Police captain who spent 28 years with the department before joining the school system in 1999. "This was a student who had one-on-one contact with this individual."

By then, police were alerted to the situation by South Carroll parents who called the Westminster barracks Monday to ask about a student who was suspended for threatening classmates.

"The school initiated the investigation," Maryland State Police Lt. Terry L. Katz said, "but we were going to be calling them anyway."

Cynthia Little, Carroll's director of pupil services, said the school system has received complaints from parents that the investigation did not move quickly enough. But parents also called to thank administrators and police for intervening before a threat turned more violent.

"I absolutely believe we took the action that was required and did what was appropriate," Little said. Nevertheless, Little said that she, Faries and Katz decided yesterday that it would be better to involve police sooner in the future.

"Whether they only file an incident report or begin a full-blown investigation, I think it's appropriate to keep police informed about what's going on in the school system," Little said.

Meanwhile, students at South Carroll High debated how serious the student was about carrying out his alleged threats.

Those interviewed yesterday depicted two sides to Furr's personality: Some described him as an amiable teen-ager who joked in class and loved music, while others recalled a brooding, reclusive student who seemed obsessed with horror movies and death.

K. C. York, a 17-year-old junior, worked with Furr at the Mount Airy Pizza Hut where Furr washed dishes and cooked. York also played drums with Furr and went to his house often to play video games and music.

"It's all blown out of proportion," York said. "There's people that didn't like him and he didn't like some other people, and that's normal high school behavior."

York said he didn't remember Furr being bullied -- as Furr's attorney and some students interviewed by police have said -- although "there were people that kind of excluded him for the way he dressed."

A Pizza Hut manager who worked with Furr and knew him personally for three or four years said he didn't think the alleged threats were made seriously.

"He was polite to everybody," the manager said. "He didn't get in anybody's way. He did his work and went home."

The criminal misdemeanor assault charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in a juvenile facility and a $2,500 fine. Furr was also charged with "disturbance of school activities," a violation of the state education code, and could receive a maximum of six months' detention and a $1,000 fine. Because Furr was 17 when he was arrested and charged, his case will remain in Juvenile Court.

Administrators and law enforcement officials noted that students had done the right thing in alerting authorities with their concerns.

"That's the really good news of this story," Katz said. "Young people took the responsibility to safeguard their friends and themselves."

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