Rumors Of Violence Send Jitters
BY TODD WELLINGTON Staff Writer
Rumors alone were enough to cause some Lyndon Institute students to stay away from school and others to go home early, Thursday.
On the 30-day anniversary of the high school massacre in Columbine, Colo., LI students were feeling the effects of that tragedy when rumors of a bomb and a planned shooting were circulated among the student body.
On April 20, 10 Columbine students and a teacher were gunned down by two high school students, who then turned their weapons on themselves.
Sometime last week, an Internet posting calling for a national high school walkout at 1:30 p.m. on the anniversary of the Columbine shootings began circulating throughout LI.
Instead of a walkout, the school's administration decided to cancel classes during the last period of the day so that students could use the time to deal with feelings and concerns about the events at Columbine or related issues in a manner of their own choosing. Students could take time away from school to reflect or discuss their feelings with school guidance counselors, faculty, staff or administration.
"We wanted to turn this into a positive thing," said Assistant Headmaster Bill Reinhardt. "We wanted to make the opportunity and give them time to discuss this."
"There were a lot of kids that wanted to talk with someone about what's going on in this crazy planet," said Headmaster Dwight Davis.
The 7th-period plans were announced at a school assembly, Wednesday. At some point after the assembly, various rumors, including one of a possible planned shooting, began to filter throughout the student body. Just a few students stayed away from school altogether but with the school flags flying at half-mast, Thursday, in memory of the Columbine killings, the rumors spread like wildfire. By the time 7th period came, about 100 other students, fearing for their own safety due to the rumors, went home early.
According to Reinhardt, all of the rumors were investigated and tracked to their various sources and none were found to be based in an actual serious threat.
"There never was a threat that could be tracked down as substantial," he said.
But as administrators, faculty and staff were checking the rumors, students began calling home and leaving school early while concerned parents began calling the school.
At one point during the hectic day another rumor, that of a bomb threat, began making its way around campus.
"It was all over the school in 10 minutes," said Reinhardt. "It just mushroomed. All of a sudden we heard we had a bomb threat when we hadn't had one. It was a wild day."
"There were just some rumors" said LI history teacher Dennis Sweet. "There were some kids that were legitimately scared but most classes still went on."
Possibly fueling the rumors was a meeting Thursday between Reinhardt and a group of LI students prone to wearing black clothing and trench coats. The students had reportedly been subject to some unkind remarks since the Columbine killings because of their choice of dress and its similarity to that of the so-called "Trenchcoat Mafia."
The two shooters at the Columbine massacre were self-proclaimed Trenchoat Mafia members.
"They had been taking a lot of heat because of the way they were dressed," said Reinhardt, who began approaching the students about the meeting on Wednesday. He said the meeting was a productive one. "I think we had a really good exchange of views," he said.
Those kinds of meetings, said Davis, will be happening more and more at LI. "We need to listen to the concerns of all our students to get a better understanding of how other people feel," he said. "We must learn from the Littleton tragedies and we have to become more tolerant of each other. We don't have to agree with or even like everyone, but we must respect the rights of others to have their own beliefs and we must not impede on the rights of others."
There may have been some benefits to the tense, sometimes chaotic day at LI.
"We probably had more communication between faculty, staff and students then we've had in a long time," said Davis. "It gave us a chance to communicate with kids that really needed to be communicate with."
"A lot of classes were taking time to discuss issues of tolerance," said Sweet. "It happened throughout the day. A lot of kids came in wanted to get some things off their chests. A lot of people did some really good talking. The school day ended pretty peacefully and a few stayed around after to talk. I think a lot of people found out where other people are coming from. I think people might have learned a lesson about rumors too."