Approaching Columbine Anniversary Sparks New Threats

From California to Kansas to New York, there has been a new spate of threats against students, and with the upcoming second anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, experts say it may not be a coincidence.

In Elmira, N.Y., an 18-year-old is being held on $1 million bail today, charged with bringing 18 bombs and two guns to school in a gym bag Wednesday. In New Jersey today, an eighth-grade girl has been suspended after a librarian allegedly found a list titled "People-2-Kill" with the names of 16 fellow students on it.

"This is a dangerous time coming," says James Garbarino, a professor at Cornell University, who has written extensively about youth violence.

"I think it's entirely plausible that as the anniversary approaches" there will be more threats and incidents, he says, referring to the April 20, 1999, attack in Littleton, Colo, in which Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 people and then themselves.

New Threats of Copycat Violence

Recent threats have appeared in communities large and small.

In Boulder, Colo., police and Fairview High School officials are looking into an Internet chat room message that read "All Fairview Jocks will die Columbine-style."

"Is this a joke? Is this serious? We don't know, but we're taking it seriously," said Boulder Police Cmdr. Tom Wickman.

A student athlete received the message on Sunday, and told authorities on Tuesday, after bullets were found near a set of lockers at the school. It was unclear if the two incidents were related.

In Reno, Nev., a 16-year-old boy was arrested last Friday for allegedly planning an attack on his former high school.

Police searched the teen's home and found pellet guns, a detailed map of the school, and a mock newspaper article describing how the boy kills students with guns and explosives before being killed himself by police.

Weapons, Bombs and Hate Literature

Last week, police in Hoyt, Kan., arrested three teens after a search of their homes uncovered weapons, bomb materials, white supremacist literature and a map of their high school.

An eighth-grader in Bethpage, N.Y., was suspended for two days for using his Web site to publish a list of names and photographs of students he threatened to attack..

In January, a photo lab clerk called police when 19-year-old Al DeGuzman came to pick up his pictures, which showed him posing with a lethal arsenal of guns and pipe bombs. Police say that, like the Columbine killers, DeGuzman made a confessional video tape to be found after the attack.

Gauging the Anniversary’s Effect

Is there a connection to the Columbine attack, or the gruesome event's upcoming anniversary?

"The reality is, since the Columbine incident we've continued to have these spin-off threats," says Kenneth Trump, who has worked on school security issues for 15 years.

"But at some points in time," he cautions, "they may peak."

More Attention From Officials, Parents, the Media

Experts agree that jump in reports of school threats is at least partly due to increased attention from school officials, as well as from the public and media.

The increased attention has helped schools prepare for the possibility of student violence, but in some cases, it has also made some hyper-sensitive, says Jens Ludwig, a Georgetown University professor who studies the issue.

"Schools are still some of the safest places for kids to be," he notes.

Still, he and others recommend common sense and caution as the grim anniversary approaches.

Trump suggests parents should ask school administrators about the steps they've taken to prevent violence, and about how well-prepared they are to manage an incident.

"We don't want to be scared, but we need to be prepared," he says.

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