--- Making a Permanent Impression Since 1994 ---
Memo details school response to threats
By Mike Nguyen
with the dizzying coverage of school violence in the media, the thought of a
shooting happening in Bristol seemed extremely unlikely -- almost nonexistent.
police arrested a Bristol Eastern High School junior, John Coons, and charged
him March 12 with threatening to attack the school.
on $500,000 bond for nearly a week behind bars – charged with inciting injury
to persons or property, threatening and breach of peace – the 17-year-old is
currently free and undergoing counseling. He hasn’t returned to school.
to a March 14 memorandum sent to school staff members by Daniel Viens, an
assistant principal at Eastern, three students came to his office “to make me
aware of a situation regarding what they heard from a friend.”
was the part of the story that bothered us,” wrote Viens: “the student
involved had asked two of his friends to assist in developing a plan to attack
the school. This student was also chatting with someone up north regarding the
making of a bomb.”
both Viens and Boyd Biondino, another assistant principal, listened to the
students’ worries, he wrote in the memo, Coons “was brought down to the
office, interviewed” and “admitted to making the comments.”
told the school officials he “was just kidding,” according to Viens’ memo.
that point, administrators called Coons’ mother and turned over the case to
Police Officer Gary Vincent, who is stationed at the school frequently.
said that by 3:30 Monday – three hours after the three unidentified students
first talked with him – Vincent had left a phone message saying “the student
was arrested and charged. A search of his locker, book bag and home showed up
remains unclear exactly what Coons, whose parents declined to allow him to be
interviewed, is alleged to have said or done.
school officials or the police overreact? The evidence isn’t in.
a recent Federal Bureau of Investigation report – “The School Shooter: A
Threat Assessment Perspective” – examines the rising numbers of threats and
attacks against random students in the classroom in an effort to find the best
course of action.
stories of white suburban teenagers are the most covered of this time, violence
in schools generally doesn't match that small exception, according to the
how did Eastern's management of a violent threat do, according to the report?
FBI's suggested approach to threats is to treat each one with the same
seriousness, but not the same procedures.
today's climate, some schools tend to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to any
mention of violence,” the report said.
response to every threat is the same, regardless of its credibility or the
likelihood that it will be carried out. In the shock-wave of recent school
shootings, this reaction may be understandable, but it is exaggerated -- and
perhaps dangerous, leading to potential underestimation of serious threats,
overreaction to less serious ones, and unfairly punishing or stigmatizing
students who are in fact not dangerous," states the report.
the danger of every threat, the report said, requires school officials to ask
how credible is it and “to what extent does the threatener appear to have the
resources, intent and motivation to carry out the threat?”
report said low-level threats require “interviews with the student and his or
her parents” as well as disciplinary action and possibly counseling or other
example of a low-level threat, the FBI said, would be an email from one student
to another that says, “You are a dead man.”
level threats “should in most cases include contacting law enforcement
agencies, as well as other sources, to obtain additional information.”
Sometimes, but not always, the report continued, the cases “warrant
investigation as a possible criminal offense.”
example of a medium-level threat would be a ninth grader making a video of
students on school property shooting one another with guns that appear real, the
high-level threats, according to the FBI, the school should “immediately
notify” police and implement plans that should already be on the books.
high-level threat is highly likely to result in criminal prosecution,” the
example offered by the FBI is an anonymous threat made by phone to blow up a
pipe bomb placed in a senior’s locker near the gym at noon – what makes it a
serious case is that it is “direct and specific” rather than vague.
the details of Coons’ case are still unknown, it is unclear whether officials
overreacted or took the appropriate steps.
there is talk that Eastern will install security cameras and code button
activated security systems, administrators know the best solution is training
faculty and students to recognize and respond to dangers.
Viens’ memo, he concludes with a reminder for school personnel: “Open
communication with students and staff is our only defense against acts of
violence. Please keep your eyes and ears open and keep us informed.”
staff writer James Hebert contributed to this story.
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