Carroll acts to increase security at Liberty High

`Unsubstantiated' rumors of `Columbine-like violence' set for June 6 spur officials

May 25, 2006|By GINA DAVIS | GINA DAVIS,SUN REPORTER

Amid rumors that warn of "Columbine-like violence" at a Carroll County high school June 6 -- a date being linked to satanic references because it translates to 666 -- officials are trying to allay growing concerns among parents, students and staff at Liberty High School in Eldersburg.

"The rumors have been unsubstantiated," Florence Oliver, principal of the nearly 1,200-student school, said yesterday, adding, however, that "we want to help bring down the stress level and the tension to give students, parents and employees a sense of safety and security."

To help ease fears, school officials are planning to increase police presence -- especially on that day and the night before -- and students are being prohibited from wearing trench coats to school.

About two weeks ago, a student reported to school officials that he had overheard two Liberty High students discussing plans for June 6 at Liberty for "Columbine-like violence," a reference to the 1999 Columbine High School attack in Colorado, in which two students wearing trench coats killed 13 people and committed suicide, said Larry Faries, the school system's coordinator of school security.

Because the conversation is alleged to have occurred off school grounds, Faries asked state police in Westminster to investigate.

After interviewing both students and their parents, searching rooms in their homes and combing through notebooks, state police concluded that the rumors were unfounded, Faries said. The students, who cooperated with state police, denied making threats, he said.

"The state police did as thorough an investigation as possible, but they couldn't validate" the claims, Faries said. "Then you had students on the Internet and text-messaging passing this around, and it snowballed from there. All of a sudden, we had rumors of hit lists."

Spokesmen for several neighboring school systems -- including Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, and Howard counties -- said yesterday that they had not come across rumors similar to those in Carroll County, but they said they intend to be watchful.

"We have certainly put our schools on alert and have asked them to be extra vigilant on that day," said Tony Ruffin, spokesman for Anne Arundel schools. "If they see or hear of any unusual activity on that day, they're to report it immediately to the security office and our communications center."

Carroll school officials also are warning parents about rumors lingering on Web sites, such as myspace.com, that suggest danger on that date -- 6/6/6 -- because of the link of those digits to biblical prophecies about the Antichrist.

Faries said that although he did not want to do anything that might fuel the unfounded rumors, he needed to explain to parents what the date meant and what school officials were doing to help students feel safe.

"You don't want to stir it up, but Lord knows if you don't look into it, you have trouble. It's a Catch-22," Faries said. "With our technological age, stirring up rumors happens instantly."

To quell the rumors, Faries and other school officials, including Superintendent Charles I. Ecker, met this week with about 75 people -- mostly parents.

"We're keeping our eyes and ears open for anything that we may see or hear that is suspicious," Ecker said. "We investigate all alleged threats."

Oliver said parents and students have told her that they feel safe about attending classes June 6.

"They see ... that action is being taken," she said.

Ginger Halverson, Liberty High's PTA vice president and a secretary in the main office, said she is comfortable with the steps that Oliver and other school officials have taken. She said her son, Scott, a 10th-grader, has no qualms about attending school that day.

"If I'm coming, he's coming," she said. "I have faith in how the administration and the police have handled the situations."

Because exams are scheduled from June 1 through June 6, students too distressed to attend school because of the rumors will be allowed an excused absence with a parent's note, Oliver said.

"They will be allowed to make up the missed work," she said.

Rachel Van Parys, also a 10th-grader at Liberty High, said she doubted the rumors because "we don't have a lot of that sort of tension at our school normally."

She said students have calmed considerably in light of assurances from officials.

"A lot of people I know have said they would feel more comfortable at school than at home that day because of the added protection," she said. "I have no plans to do anything differently that day."

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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