Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Student threats still under investigation

Published in the Current

A Cape Elizabeth High School student is facing possible charges of terrorizing – a misdemeanor – for making threats against at least one other student and the school, according to Police Chief Neil Williams.

Williams said the student is a male age “15 or 16.” Principal Jeff Shedd said the student made threats against at least two students and “the school community.”

Shedd and Williams both said there was no imminent danger to students or the school.

The student allegedly made threats verbally during school and electronically over computer instant messaging systems. Students who were targets of threats, as well as students who had heard about the threats from others, told school staff, Shedd said.

Details of the threat have not been released but the student apparently threatened the life of at least one person. The student has not been suspended, but has been “removed from school pending evaluation,” Shedd said, and will not be allowed back until police and school officials deem it as safe. The student is receiving assignments and instruction while out of school, Shedd said.

With the help of the school, the student and his parents, Cape police are conducting an investigation into the threats. Williams said the student was not conspiring with other students, and it is unknown whether he was actually going to carry out his threats.

“We know that there was one threat against a person,” Williams said. Part of the investigation is intended to discover if any other actual threats were made.

Williams said the “rumor mill” is hard to sort through, and officers will question people with direct knowledge of the threats, who either heard the threats themselves or received them in typed messages.

“We can’t take those things lightly,” he said. “Kids say things when they’re angry,” he said, but “you have to look into it.”

Cape police will send a computer, on which some of the threats are believed to have been typed, to the Maine Computer Crimes Task Force for analysis, though that agency has a large backlog of cases. The computer was obtained from the family without a search warrant, Williams said.

The student has not been arrested, and Williams does not expect officers to arrest him. Police officers can only make arrests for misdemeanors when they directly observe the crime being committed. No officer was a direct witness to the threats, so Williams expects a summons to be issued.

He said the parents and the student are “cooperating” with the investigation. The student’s father has turned over four guns – two handguns and two “long guns” – to police voluntarily, Williams said.

The man is allowed to own guns and they are properly registered, Williams said. Police will return the guns to the man when he and police deem it appropriate, Williams said.

Shedd said he has no reason to believe any weapons were ever brought into the school, and “there is no evidence that there was ever a plan,” he said.

After the threats were reported, Shedd said the students were called to an assembly, at which school officials told them about the incident and assured them the school was safe. “We wanted them to know that it was some gutsy students” who told school staff about the threats, Shedd said.

Rumors of the involvement of a machine gun, a “hit list,” weapons in the student’s room and a military presence at the school, Shedd said, are untrue. He said there have been military recruiters visiting the high school periodically, and that may have been the source of the rumor of military involvement.

This is the most serious case of school threatening to occur in Cape Elizabeth, though it has brought back memories of a lesser threat made about a year ago. In that case, Williams said, officers had far less information to go on at the outset. The parents of that student cooperated with the police, removed a gun from their home and got their son the assistance he needed, Williams said.

Police and school officials are working closely together and have the cooperation of the parents, Shedd said. He was glad that students had had the courage to come forward and report the problem.

“It’s working out as well as it could work out,” Shedd said.