LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — After a freshman shot and killed three classmates at Heath High School in Paducah in 1997, the man who was principal at the time says so many new threats were reported that police wanted to cancel graduation that spring.
Now, in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 massacre that killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., former principal Bill Bond sees a familiar pattern: bomb threats, shooting threats and rumors spreading through schools across Kentucky and the country.
"You can expect a rash of very crazy threats, students making silly remarks," said Bond. "It happens every time after one of these."
No agency appears to track the number of threats of mass violence at schools. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that between 1993 and 2009, the last year available, between 7 and 9 percent of the nation's high school students were threatened or injured with a weapon on campus.
In Kentucky, the figure dropped from 8.3 percent in 2007 to 7.9 percent of students in 2009.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics also reports that non-fatal violence against students at schools nationwide has dropped steadily over the last 18 years, from a high of 329,800 serious incidents in 1994 to 91,400 in 2010. The number of homicides at schools was also at a 10-year low in 2009-2010 with 17, the lowest since 2000-01.
Bond, who now works as a counselor with the National Association of Secondary School Principals in Reston, Va., said school districts have to treat the threats as legitimate, particularly after an incident like the one in Connecticut.
"When the notes are found, they're going to have to follow through with the same procedures as if at a normal time," Bond said.
Kentucky State Police Sgt. Rick Saint-Blancard said his agency hasn't seen a spike in bomb threats since the Connecticut shootings.
However, some Kentucky schools have reported threats the form of notes about bombs, students spreading rumors or directly saying they would bring a gun to school to shoot teachers and classmates.
In Prestonsburg, two students were arrested Tuesday on charges of making terroristic threats. In Lexington 850 students left school early Monday because of a rumored threat. And in Paducah, a middle school and high school were searched after a threat on Tuesday.
In each recent case, police were called and the notes and threats were investigated. Some schools dismissed classes for the day after the threat was discovered, but reconvened students the next day.
Jefferson County Public Schools spokesman Ben Jackey said one threat and one rumor of possible violence during the last week may be related to Connecticut, but he can't be sure because he's not part of the ongoing investigation.
"I think we've seen an increased awareness in our community about the safety and security of our students," Jackey said. "That is a good thing."
Molly Goodman, a spokeswoman for McCracken County Public Schools, said the Connecticut shooting reinforces a "heightened awareness" the school district has had since the 1997 shootings at Heath High School. Goodman said they haven't seen an increase in threats coinciding with national events, but all threats are investigated.
Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton said threats of violence arise throughout the school year, but after incidents like the Connecticut shootings, there's more of a sense of urgency about them.
"We deal with statements on a regular basis because you're dealing with children. It seems like that in a situation like we're in now, there's just a heightened sense of awareness and more sensitivity to it," Shelton said. "We take them all seriously, no matter when."
Bond said the threats should wind down soon in most places. But he said schools in the Newtown, Conn., area could continue to receive threats of violence for a while, just as the schools Paducah did.
"Almost every school after they have a school shooting ... some person with mental problems will call in a bomb threat or pull a fire alarm," Bond said. "What's really sad is it happens in the same community."
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