Concern raised after rumored plan to mark Columbine anniversary at SoHi

Police, schools confront threats

Posted: Friday, April 20, 2001

Rumors that something violent might happen today at Soldotna High School has prompted a strong reaction from authorities.

Thursday afternoon, the entire student body gathered in the auditorium to hear Principal Sylvia Reynolds and Soldotna Police Chief Shirley Warner speak about the concerns.

"I have spent the last three days dealing with rumors and calls from parents," Reynolds said. "We did have a threat. A student made a verbal threat last week."

The police were called in and the student was removed from school. The matter has been referred to Juvenile Intake for possible criminal charges. The student will not return to school until all involved are confident no danger exists.

Reynolds and Warner emphasized the recent, zero-tolerance attitude toward threats, the priority of student safety and the importance of sharing information.

"It is against the law to make threats," Warner said. "You have to be very careful about what you say."

People who make remarks in jest or in anger may rue their words. In the contemporary climate of concern about school safety, authorities are taking all threats seriously. Even groundless threats can be prosecuted as terroristic threats.

"You may know that you are kidding," Reynolds said. "I don't know that."

Warner added, "We do not know what is in the head of the person saying it."

She also made it clear that any notion of causing a "scare" by bringing in a toy gun would be a bad idea.

"We are going to assume it is a real gun," she said, speaking of the police viewpoint. "We have to. That is our training."

Anyone with information about odd behavior or possible dangers has an obligation to step forward, they reminded students.

Following the 1997 school shooting in Bethel, the gunman was not the only person sent to prison. One of his friends also is serving time because he knew about the murderer's plans but did nothing to thwart them, Warner told the students.

"If any student has knowledge, you would be held responsible," she said. "If it turns out to be nothing, that's great."

Concerns centered around today, the second anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., in which 12 students and a teacher were killed and 26 others were injured, before the two teen gunmen shot and killed themselves.

"Do I foresee anything happening ...? No. Can I guarantee that? No."

Warner said the decision to hold the assembly came out of a meeting attended by Kenai Peninsula Bor-ough Superintendent Donna Peter-son, Soldotna police officer Rob Quelland, SoHi Assistant Principal Sean Dusek, Reynolds and herself.

"All the powers that be made the decision to be up front and try to address all the students," Warner said.

The school distributed a memo to students as they left the auditorium with instructions that they take it home to parents.

"It is not our intent to minimize the importance of this situation, but it is important to keep it in perspective. Unfortunately, rumors have escalated things to the level that needs immediate attention; however, we have yet to receive any hard facts that would allow us to confirm these rumors," it read in part.

In the letter, school officials assure the community that all information is being investigated and encouraged people to report any information they may have to the school, the police or the district. It also stressed that threats, even supposedly in jest, will result in criminal charges as well as school sanctions. Other measures in place include additional security cameras at school and a close working partnership with law enforcement.

In the assembly, Reynolds cautioned students not to get carried away with spring fever and "senioritis." Every year a few people fail to graduate in the final weeks of school because of poor judgment calls, she warned.

She also laid down the word that a teen dance party, supposedly planned for Seward this weekend, has been canceled and troopers will be on the highways in force checking for questionable traffic.

Warner noted that school safety is an emotional issue for all involved. Such tragedies touch many lives, leaving scars on communities affected, law officers and young people everywhere.

She noted that she and Dusek recently attended a conference in Anchorage about school safety issues in the wake of the Columbine tragedy. One of the speakers was a police officer involved with the Bethel shooting, who still cannot talk about it without crying.

"I don't think we are blowing it out of proportion," Warner said. "This is not funny."

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