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Targets of hate reveal emotions

February 12, 2006|By CANDICE BOSLEY & DANIEL SERNOVITZ

candiceb@herald-mail.com

daniels@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN -

It was hate, concealed in an envelope. Terror, from a disembodied voice on the other end of a phone line.

How to convey the fear that those who opened the letters or picked up the phone felt? It's not possible, a Hagerstown City Council member who received hate letters and telephone calls said.

Alesia Parson-McBean said it is difficult for those unaffected by the threats to comprehend the emotional toll they took on her and her loved ones.

"Unless you were directly impacted by this kind of hate, you will never know what this feels like," she said. "You will never know. It's a living hell, a living hell."

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Parson-McBean said she watched with horror as the person making the threats grew ever more bold, ever more specific.

"It is very emotional. For me, to watch hate grow, from letters to phone calls ..." she said.

Former Hagerstown Police Department Officer Jeffrey Scott Shifler, 41, of 13934 Green Mountain Drive in Maugansville, was arrested Thursday in connection with the threatening letters and phone calls.

Shifler is charged with making the threats by telephone, which is a federal offense; by mail, which is another federal offense; and with falsely reporting that he had placed anthrax in Hagerstown's City Hall.

He isn't accused of carrying out any of the threats, which continued into this month, but the messages prompted at least one building evacuation and increased racial tensions during last year's Hagerstown city election.

Shifler remained in federal custody after a 10-minute initial appearance Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey scheduled a detention hearing for Tuesday.

Shifler also has been suspended without pay from his job as an officer with the Boonsboro Police Department, Boonsboro Town Manager John L. Kendall said Friday.

FBI investigators allege that between March 2004 and Feb. 4, Shifler made 14 anonymous telephone calls and sent at least nine anonymous letters. Many of the letters were written on Hagerstown Police Department letterhead.

Along with Parson-McBean, recipients included schools, police officers, an openly gay Hagerstown code enforcement officer, members of the organization Brothers United Who Dare to Care, hotels, county and city offices, and retail businesses.

Shifler was fired from the Hagerstown Police Department on Nov. 3, 2003, after being accused of falsifying payroll records. He had worked for the department for 16 years.

Shifler joined the police force in Boonsboro on July 1 after passing a background check by a Washington County Sheriff's Department deputy that did not indicate he had been fired by the City of Hagerstown.

A day after it was announced that Shifler had been arrested, those victimized expressed feelings that included surprise and relief.

Lockdowns followed school threats

Richard Akers, principal at South Hagerstown High School, said the school was on a modified lockdown after a threatening phone call was made on the afternoon of Jan. 10.

The caller threatened to come to the school, take black students hostage and kill them, records state.

"It's a relief" that someone was charged, Akers said.

"Obviously, all threats have to be taken seriously, but there's a major cost on the peace of mind that our parents have and (an effect on) the instruction of our students," Akers said.

A student aide took the 1:21 p.m. call. When the aide placed the caller on hold to get Akers, the caller hung up, Akers said.

"She was obviously very interested in that article," Akers said of the student aide and a Herald-Mail article on Shifler's arrest.

As part of the school's partial lockdown, more than six police officers were stationed at the building, checking all visitors. Exterior doors were locked and students' movements were restricted - for example, they could not go to a bathroom without an escort.

Akers said he was surprised to hear that a police officer was accused of making the threats.

"You never expect a police officer or former police officer to be involved in something like that," he said. "We all respect our police officers and ... I don't think it reflects on the police department."

South High has 1,169 students.

North Hagerstown High School received a threat on Jan. 9 about 1 p.m. The caller said that two guns were at the school and were going to be fired, records state.

"It heavily impacted instruction, which is, of course, our biggest concern," North High Principal Valerie Novak said.

A lockdown was implemented and the school's 1,235 students did not change classes, instead staying in the classrooms in which they were when the lockdown went into effect.

A different dismissal policy also took place, said Novak, who said the Hagerstown Police Department was and has been "extremely supportive."

"The number of man-hours they put in this school (on that day) was incredible," she said. "They must have had 20 officers here at dismissal."

Two other schools also were called.

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