King George schools respond to rumor of violence
BY MICHAEL ZITZ
King George High School administrators know we live in a time when no rumor of violence, even if it may be linked to a silly ancient doomsday prophecy, can be taken lightly.
Parents said there was a recorded “phone blast” from the school Thursday about a rumored threat, followed by an email letter the same day. On Friday, a hard copy of the letter arrived in homes.
That, of course, was the same day the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shootings heightened anxiety.
The letter from KGHS Principal Clifton D. Conway said last Monday school officials had begun investigating “a disturbing rumor” that “a student or small group of students was planning a violent act to be carried out at our school on Dec. 21.”
He noted that “this date coincides with the end of the Mayan calendar.”
Conway said in the letter that the school has been cooperating with the King George Sheriff’s Office, and that “all rumors concerning Dec. 21 have been aggressively traced as far as possible to determine the source. Our initial investigation seemed to quiet the rumor mill, however [Thursday] I began receiving additional reports of the same rumor.”
He said the investigation has found the rumors to be unfounded, “but we are continuing to investigate all reports as a high priority. We take any threat to our students’ and staff members’ safety seriously.”
King George Sheriff Steve Dempsey said in a statement that his office “is aware of the information and we’re working with the school to identify the originator. At this time, we have not been able to substantiate a viable threat.” The Sheriff’s Office will have additional deputies at the school through Friday.
Though there have been no other threats, King George Superintendent Robert Benson said Saturday that the Sheriff’s Office will increase its presence at all county schools. “The support is intended to make everyone feel safe in the wake of what happened in Connecticut,” he said.
Parents and students interviewed by The Free Lance–Star are concerned, by the rumors and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Even a former King George School Board chairwoman said she’s considering keeping her children home on Dec. 21.
“I feel for the school division,” Renee Parker said Saturday. “You can’t cater to every threat. If you shut the school down every time there’s a threat, you’re going to have kids calling in threats to get the day off. It’s hard because you’re so concerned about the safety of the kids. It’s a different world we live in.”
Parker, whose daughter is a senior at King George High and son is in eighth grade at the middle school, said: “As a mother, do I think about keeping my own kids home next Friday? I don’t want to feel that way, but I do. I’m torn.”
Some students have commented on the situation via social media.
“I think that it is a sick thing to spread around. It has made many parents worried, and many students can’t go to school that day and feel safe,” Rachel Edwards, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at King George Middle School, said in response to a reporter’s question.
“The fact that I have two siblings that go [to King George High] just makes it even more frightening.”
Michael Zitz: 540/846-5163