By Matthew Chayes
The Associated Press
MANHASSET, N.Y. — An eighth-grader's report of seeing another boy with a handgun led to a six-hour lockdown yesterday for about 1,300 students on the Manhasset secondary school campus, during which parents stayed in touch with their children through furious text-messaging on mobile phones.
Authorities did not recover a firearm and the students in grades 7-12 were released from the campus once each child had been searched with a hand-held metal detector. The campus, which is home to both the middle and high schools, also was searched.
The lockdown came after the boy, 14, told the principal he had seen three older students in the bathroom, including one who had what appeared to be a gun, said Det. Sgt. Anthony Repalone, a Nassau police spokesman.
Though the report was never substantiated, authorities say they still consider the boy credible. His name wasn't released.
Parents were alerted to the scare by the district's electronic emergency notification system. Dozens of parents went to the campus and anxiously grilled senior district officials about their children's safety.
But back-and-forth text messages became one of the most frequent ways news traveled.
Parent Lauren Baranello exchanged nearly a half-dozen messages with her son Drew, 13, a seventh-grader.
"I just said, 'Are you OK?' because I didn't want to imply anything and make him scared," she said. But her son already had details, including the gun allegation.
"we are in trouble ... " he thumbed to his mother.
Laurie Spampinato said she received text messages from her seventh-grade son and spoke to him via mobile phone. "He sounded fine," she said. "It didn't sound like any kids in the background were panicked, either."
While parents said the messages made both them and their children feel better, police warned against relying too heavily on text messages in lieu of official communication from the authorities.
"Text messaging is something I'm sure the parents appreciate so they're in contact with their children," Repalone said. But, he added, "Sometimes the information that their children are passing on is secondhand or highly incorrect."
Inside ninth-grader Max Kraus' Regents earth science class, the messages were one of the ways information trickled in. For instance, Kraus said he had "no idea" about the gun report until a classmate got a text message.
Still, Kraus said, while the anecdote turned out to be accurate, he remained cautious.
"It was just a rumor," Kraus said. "I wasn't sure if it was true or not."
And district officials appear to have resigned themselves to the fact that in modern crises, authorities have lost the monopoly on information.
"We haven't told the children as much as we've told you," William Shine, an assistant to the superintendent, told parents gathered outside. But, he said, "I know they know."
A parent shouted, "We're texting them!"
"I know they know," Shine repeated. "I'm well aware of that."
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