Boy, 13, is arrested amid fears

Pupil at Annapolis school accused of trying to get others to join him in `re-creating Columbine'

December 16, 2005|By ANNIE LINSKEY | ANNIE LINSKEY,SUN REPORTER

A 13-year-old pupil of an Annapolis private school was arrested early yesterday morning and charged with disrupting school activities after city police said he approached several pupils about "re-creating Columbine," the 1999 school shooting spree in Colorado that left 15 people dead.

A post-midnight search of the home of the boy's parents did not turn up any weapons, and police don't know what the boy's intentions were, said Officer Kevin Freeman, an Annapolis police spokesman.

Police also don't believe that the boy's school, St. Martin's Lutheran School, is under any specific threat.

But according to a police news release, the boy "was attempting to get other pupils to join him in `re-creating Columbine,'" and he "repeatedly made ... statements indicating that he had the desire to harm people at the school and get back at them for perceived wrongs against him."

Police also confiscated "numerous papers that had violent images depicted on them," "journals containing thoughts of violence," as well as the boy's computer, according to the news release.

The teenager, whose name was being withheld because he is a juvenile, was processed at the Annapolis police station, released to his parents' custody and then sent to the Anne Arundel Medical Center for an emergency psychological evaluation, police said.

The charge of disrupting school activities carries a maximum penalty of six months in a juvenile detention center and a $2,500 fine.

The boy has been suspended from school until further notice, said St. Martin's Principal Shannon Overend.

The incident illustrates the heightened sensitivity to threats made by students since the Columbine shootings, when two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., shot and killed 12 other students and a teacher before killing themselves.

A Gaithersburg high school was locked down in 2003 in response to a report of a possible "Columbine-type incident," and months later, some parents and students at an Anne Arundel County high school said a lockdown after a gunshot there evoked memories of Columbine.

A school safety expert said yesterday that authorities handled the Annapolis incident in "textbook fashion."

"The real lesson learned [from Columbine] was the importance of recognizing early-warning signs and treating threats seriously," said Kenneth Trump, president of a Cleveland-based national school safety consulting firm.

He added that everyone involved - from the pupils to the principal to the police - took the correct course of action. "One weak link in that chain could result, and has resulted, in a tragedy," he said.

Trump noted that private schools sometimes are not forthcoming about threats because administrators worry that the school's reputation could be damaged, and he said St. Martin's should be commended for immediately contacting authorities.

David Rocah, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, had a mixed reaction.

"It is right for the principal to be concerned, call the police and for the police to investigate," Rocah said. "This is not the same thing as saying that a crime has been committed and the police can arrest someone in the middle of the night."

Rocah said Maryland's courts have found that the statute pertaining to disrupting school activities "is only violated when there is a significant violation or interference with the administration or classes at the school - and nothing that the police have said indicated that has occurred here."

He added: "Having violent thoughts is not a crime, and we don't have thought police in the U.S."

Overend, the principal, said she called 911 Tuesday after several pupils told her about the alleged remarks. Annapolis police responded and met her, the boy and his parents, she said. The parents' home was searched at 12:15 a.m. yesterday, and the boy was subsequently arrested, police said.

The principal stressed that her school is a tightknit community.

"We're a tiny Christian school, so we've been praying for the family," she said. "Our hearts go out to the family. We just really feel for them. There is no anger, just concern."

Overend sent a letter to parents yesterday letting them know about the boy's arrest, and she planned to meet with the school's board.

St. Martin's was founded in 1963. There are 221 pupils at the school, which teaches children from prekindergarten through eighth grade.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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