School Shooting Leads to Rash of Threats

ByDean Schabner

April 11, 2005 -- -- Since the shootings last month that left 10 people dead in Red Lake, Minn., there has been a rash of threats of violence at schools across the country. While such threats are disturbingly common, officials in Kansas, Texas, Michigan and Oklahoma said these incidents were more serious than usual.

Several of the threats have led to arrests, in two cases of children as young as 14, one of whom is being charged under a terrorism statute that could put him behind bars for up to 20 years.

While such "copycat" behavior by adolescents is very common, it may seem baffling that kids would emulate a behavior that, at the very least, is likely to land them in jail and get them generally disliked, and at worst will end with them dead.

"We have the sense with troubled adolescents, among a subgroup, that there is tendency to engage in copycat behavior," said Nadine Kaslow, a professor and chief psychologist at Emory University in Atlanta. "We get it in suicide epidemics, we see some of it with school shootings. Some of it is the media attention. Sadly, it is a way to get noticed. These are often kids who have been neglected, whose voices haven't been heard. This is a way to be heard."

For some of these youngsters -- the ones who generally make the most serious threats or actually carry them out -- the anger likely to be provoked by the way they choose to make themselves heard is not something that disturbs them.

"They're kids who feel so isolated, typically they don't care that nobody will like them afterward," Kaslow said. "Nobody likes them anyway."

There is no reason to expect the fact that Jeff Weise, the 16-year-old blamed for the shootings in Minnesota, ended the rampage by shooting himself, would deter other youngsters who because of bullying at school, neglect or abuse at home, or other factors, feel pushed to the edge, she said.

"Partly, just like kids drive their cars really fast, they have a feeling of being invulnerable, they don't really appreciate their own vulnerability," she said. "Partly, it's life isn't worth living. They don't care. Part of it is that they think they're noble, they're almost like suicide bombers, they're dying for a cause."

If events like what happened in Red Lake put ideas in some kids' heads, they should also make police and school officials a bit more vigilant, police and administrators around the country said.

"In the day and age we live in, and we just had a recent school shooting, you can never look at these things as, 'Well, some kid just popped off' or 'Some kid was just blowing off steam,' " said Michael Pomarico, the superintendent of USD 260 in Derby, Kan.

In Derby, it began with strong words at a church youth group meeting, and ended with a 16-year-old boy in a juvenile detention center.

"We took a report from some individuals about some criminal threats," Derby police Lt. Jimmy Queen told ABC News affiliate KAKE-TV in Wichita. "Earlier in the evening, a juvenile male, 16 years old, had made some threats toward certain individuals and toward the Derby High School and the Derby Middle School."

Police interviewed several witnesses and then took the boy into custody on March 30. The district was notified and has launched its own investigation.

"You have to take it seriously and we are," Pomarico said.

The day after the arrest, some Derby High School students still hadn't heard about the alleged threats, but those that had said they found it hard to take them seriously.

"Even though you hear about it, it doesn't really affect me, because I don't think it would happen at Derby," Derby student Hannah Lewis said.

"I don't think it'd happen here. It's just too good of a school," said Mike Mortimer, another student.

Police, though, are taking it seriously enough that they met with prosecutors from the district attorney's office to talk about possibly filing felony criminal threat charges against the boy.

In Houston, an eighth-grade student was charged with making terroristic threats on March 31 after officials learned he allegedly planned to bring a gun to school.

Administrators at Bleyl Middle School said they learned about the alleged threats after rumors began circulating among students and, along with Harris County constables, they questioned the boy and his father. The next day, the father and son met with the school principal, and the boy was then arrested.

The news of the alleged threats disturbed parents, some of whom said they are being more cautious about how their children get to and from the school.

"I've taken some kids to school that did ride the bus," said Sheryl Stuchberg, a parent. "My children always go in the car but I picked up some kids who used to ride the bus whose parents were not comfortable with that anymore."

But as in Kansas, some students who spoke to ABC News affiliate KRTK-TV in Houston seemed less concerned than the adults around them.

"That stuff you're used to when you're our age," said Elise Cabori.

The boy, whose name was not released because of his age, will be tried in juvenile court.

In Pleasant Hill, Mo., a letter threatening to kill students and staff members at the high school was found one morning last week, and similar threats were found scrawled on a bathroom wall later in the day.

A student found the letter -- one part of which read "I will kill" and then listed 11 students and two school staff members -- in a hallway at Pleasant Hill High School on March 31, Assistant Superintendent Link Lutrell said. The letter said the killings would occur the next day.

The school sent home a memo with students to tell parents about the threatening letter, and said that security would be heightened at the school.

"We want them to send their students to school, despite their concerns. We're going to do all we can do it make them safe," Lutrell said.

There has been no violence at the school since the letter was found, but authorities said the student or students responsible for it could face criminal charges in addition to school suspension or expulsion.

In Oklahoma, at least four districts have been the subject of threats in the last two weeks, and two teenagers have been arrested and charged in two of those incidents.

"Any time there is a huge event like what happened in Minnesota and it achieves a large amount of media attention we see what we term as copycat, but you have to take each one of those as a serious concern," said Debra Forshee, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma County district attorney's office.

In Mustang, school officials said a 14-year-old boy was under arrest after he confessed to writing a note found on March 28 that said in part, "On Thursday, March 31st, all Christians and preps will be shot."

Mustang Schools Superintendent Karl Springer announced the next day that police had a 14-year-old boy in custody. The suspect's name was not released because of his age.

Because of another threat that was discovered at one of the district's other middle schools, though, Springer said police would continue monitoring all the district schools.

"We have another incident at Mustang North Middle School that we will begin investigating immediately," Springer said. "Essentially, the wording is exactly the same as what we had at South Middle School ... we take all issues like this seriously."

Mustang police said the 14-year-old was charged with transmitting written threats, a felony under Oklahoma law. School administrators also said extra security measures at district schools would continue for as long as necessary.

The Mustang threat is one of several that have surfaced in Oklahoma schools over the past two weeks.

Rumors circulating around Harrah Junior High School that a group of students planned to bring a gun to school led administrators to order a lockdown. The school was searched but no weapons were found, officials said.

At Crooked Oak High School, an 18-year-old was arrested in connection with a threatening note found on a restroom wall. William "Lucky" Maroney, 18, was charged with threatening to perform an act of violence.

"Even though some folks might think of this as a minor incident, unfortunately, you can't take any type of threat as minor anymore," Crooked Oak Superintendent Shannon Goodsell told The Associated Press.

In another incident, Guthrie High School officials found a note scrawled in a boys' restroom that said all black students would "die 3/23/05." Administrators there said a student who no longer attended the school was responsible for the threat, which prompted a larger number of students than usual to stay home on March 23.

In Aurora, Colo., police are investigating what they are calling a case of ethnic intimidation at a middle school after students found an alleged "kill list" with the partial names or nicknames of 10 African-American students on a bathroom wall.

The list, found at Laredo Middle School, also included ethnic slurs, and was similar to a written list that was left in the locker of a black student, Aurora police spokeswoman Kathleen Walsh said.

Investigators reviewed security videotapes and identified about 100 students who may have been in the bathroom at the time they believe the list was written, Walsh said.

Police and school officials began interviewing potential witnesses on March 30, the day after the list was found, and additional police officers began patrolling the area, Walsh said.

"The parents, just knowing someone is after their kids, that's just too real to think about," Chrissie Thompson, a mother of children at the school, told ABC News affiliate KMGH-TV in Denver. "How are those young boys going to function, knowing this? It's going to be hard. I don't know how they're going to do it."

Another parent said he was shocked that a teenager could feel so much hatred.

"You try and teach kids not to grow up with hate crimes, but this is incredible -- toward one race," Dave O'Neill said. "It's just incredible that these kids have the type of power to put this list on and they can take somebody's life and not think twice about it. It's just incredible, it's scary."

The discovery of the list in Colorado came less than a week after another "kill list" was found in Michigan, allegedly written by a 14-year-old boy.

The White Lake Township teenager, a student at Holly High School, was charged with one count of threatening terrorism for a list he allegedly wrote threatening the lives of 11 people, including some of his classmates, Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca said.

Under the Michigan Anti-Terrorism Act, the boy could face up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted of the felony charges.

Investigators said the list was found in the boy's backpack after four classmates claimed they saw him writing it in math class. The list described who the boy allegedly planned to kill at the school, according to Gorcyca's office. School officials searched the teenager's backpack and discovered a notebook containing the list, Gorcyca said.

School administrators contacted the Holly Police Department, and told them the boy had allegedly made other unrelated threats regarding a current drunken driving case involving his mother's boyfriend. He had allegedly threatened to appear in court, where he planned to take the court officer's gun and shoot people, the prosecutor's office said.

Holly and White Lake police searched the boy's family home, but they did not find any weapons.

At a pretrial hearing last week, the boy's defense attorney, Ryan Deel, asked for a jury trial and argued that his client should be released on bond. The boy smiled as his mother offered him some comfort during the proceedings.

Deel argued that the boy has no criminal history or record of disciplinary problems in school. He said the boy denies writing the list, and that he still has the support of his family, including his mother.

"This is her child," Deel explained. "She doesn't like to see him going through this. Particularly when her son says he didn't do it."

Prosecutors said there was no way to tell what the boy might have done if he hadn't been caught, and argued he should not be released.

The court referee agreed with the prosecutors, and ordered the boy held without bond at the Oakland County Children's Village. There is another pretrial hearing scheduled, when Deel said he will make another request to have him released.

"We are looking merely at the charges and not looking beneath the surface of what kind of boy are we talking about here," said Deel after the hearing, questioning the filing of terror charges against the teenager. "I would argue that even if he did write this list, I don't believe that it falls within the statute."

ABC News affiliates WXYZ-TV in Detroit, KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City, KMGH-TV in Denver and KMBC-TV in Kansas City contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events