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Most students pay threats little mind

May 30, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

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School GuardMost students pay threats little mind

Katie Martin said she knows students who have guns. She has even heard some people threaten to use them.

But the sophomore at Waynesboro (Pa.) Area High School said she isn't worried.

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"Half the people in this town are all talk. They might kick your butt, but they won't kill you," she said.

Many Tri-State area students say it's not uncommon to hear threats, especially against teachers.

They acknowledge the potential for violence to erupt, just as it has in a number of small towns across the country lately.

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But most seem unwilling to believe that it will happen here.

"I can't imagine anybody just coming in and shooting people for no reason. It's incomprehensible to me," said Jessica Kelley, a senior at North Hagerstown High School.

A ninth-grader at North was suspended last week for allegedly threatening someone. Principal David Reeder said he had to be tough, especially in light of what has been happening across the country.

Some teachers at North have been keeping their doors shut and talking, in only half-joking tones, about the possibility of violence, Kelley said.

"It's scary. It really is," she said.

But other North students said the suspended student's remark was a harmless one that was misinterpreted as a threat.

"In this case, they blew it," said Antoinette Campbell, a junior.

In general, students interviewed at Waynesboro, North Hagerstown and Smithsburg schools say they don't think the threats they hear fellow students make should be taken seriously.

"Nobody goes through with it," said Chris Miller, a ninth-grader at Waynesboro Area Middle School.

Classmate Ashley Coffman also said she has heard many disturbing remarks in the heat of anger.

"No one actually goes ahead and shoves that gun in your face," she said.

One seventh-grade girl who dropped out of school is notorious for making idle threats, said Brittany Brooks, an eighth-grader.

"She tells people all the time she's going to shoot them. She really ain't gonna do it," Brooks said.

In November, Waynesboro High hired a security officer to stand near the intersection of East Second Street and Virginia Avenue before school.

Waynesboro Principal Larry Bricker said his primary concern was not violence. The guard acts mainly as a buffer between the school and the neighborhood, Bricker said.

But ever since the school shootings nationwide, school officials are on extra alert.

"I think we're more likely to take threats seriously," he said.

The threat at North wasn't enough to worry senior Robert Thomas III, who said the school is peaceful compared to the school he used to attend outside New York City.

"I've never been afraid of coming to school. Up there, if you look at someone crossways they'll beat the snot out of you," said the junior.

But some students are genuinely worried about safety.

Natalie Koerber, a seventh-grader at Waynesboro Middle, said she has been thinking a lot about the school killings in Springfield, Ore., and Jonesboro, Ark.

"I think they should be checking in on the kids more often," for drugs as well as weapons, she said.

Karen Billoto, a senior at Smithsburg High, said the fact that there isn't enough to do in the rural town of 1,200 makes it more likely a tragedy will occur.

"I'm positive it'll happen here," she said. "There are some people in this school who are that unstable."

Officials crack down on students for minor things like loitering while ignoring the important things, like how the students really feel, Billoto said.

"They should try to find out what's going on in their head," said Katie Barton, a junior at Smithsburg.

Communities like Springfield and Jonesboro are not blameless when one of their young people loses control, said Smithsburg senior Jennifer Weigle.

"No one wants to take responsibility. No one wants to talk about the bad stuff," Weigle said.

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