(Copyright 1999 by The Bristol Press. All rights reserved.)

From The Bristol Press

May 8, 1999

Two students learn 'threats' no joking matter


BRISTOL -- Some Bristol Eastern High School
students are questioning whether school administrators
reacted too harshly in suspending two of their
classmates this week for allegedly issuing threats.

But in the wake of last month's massacre at
Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., school
officials said they have no choice except to take every
potential threat seriously.

Both of the students suspended -- junior Ryan Zeechin
and sophomore Brendan Sullivan -- said Friday they
were only joking around.

Assistant Principal Boyd Biondino said he would not
discuss either incident, but added, "Maybe the reaction
to joking has changed. We're increasingly aware of the
possibilities, and we're hearing threats better." 

Zeechin, a junior, allegedly issued a bomb threat.

"It was complete bull," Zeechin said. "I was joking
around and said something like, ‘Yeah -- maybe I'll
put a bomb in your book bag' and some other stuff. It
was a joke. The whole thing's been blown out of
proportion. They had to punish me as an example."

In a meeting with Principal V. Everett Lyons and
Biondino, Zeechin said, he was told that "it didn't
matter whether I was joking -- I was suspended."

Lyons, who also refused to comment on either
suspension, warned students against making
threatening statements during an address Tuesday.

Sullivan was suspended after classmates reported to
administrators that he had created an alleged "hit list"
of students who had picked on him.

"It wasn't a hit list," said Sullivan. "It wasn't serious. It
was in jest."

Sullivan, an honor student, is described by friends and
fellow students as quiet, unassuming and non-violent.

"It's been blown out of proportion," said senior Sarah
DiVenere. "I know him. I know his family. He could
never hurt anybody. The school violence thing is
making everybody paranoid."

"I think what happened in Columbine was awful," said
senior Scott Costa,"but we have a heightened level of
paranoia now. It's better safe than sorry, I guess, but to
what extent? What can you say?"

"Brendan's just not a violent person." said sophomore
Craig LaRue, a close friend. "He had a list, sure, but it
was a joke. He probably shouldn't have brought the
list up since Colorado. That was the mistake."

"Ever since Colorado," said freshman Terry Jensen,
"it's like anybody who says anything is in trouble.
People are crazy about it."

But some students could see the other side, too.
Speaking about Zeechin's alleged threat, junior Alan
Aubin said, "It's good that we've set the example. Now
others will learn from him, know that they can't make
threats, no matter what they mean."

"I was just joking around," said Zeechin. "No one
should have taken it seriously. You know when
someone's joking."

"There can be no such thing as a joke anymore." said
Ken Ferris, choral director at Eastern."No threat or
joke can be taken lightly. You never know which kid
is going to carry it out."