03/20/2001

Officials, police contend with rash of school threats
[Gloucester, MA]

By John Ellement, Globe Staff
March 17, 2001, Saturday ,Third Edition
Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company
The Boston Globe
March 17, 2001, Saturday ,Third Edition

(GLOUCESTER, Mass.) -- On Wednesday, it was a High School student allegedly threatening to commit a new Columbine. One day later, it was middle school girls getting threatening e-mails, reportedly from a 12-year-old Rockport boy.

And yesterday, a 10-year-old Gloucester boy allegedly shouted to classmates at Fuller Elementary School that he had access to guns and was "going to shoot the kids and blow them all away."

"I don't know what's going on," a weary Gloucester Police Chief James A. Marr Sr. said of recent events in his city and elsewhere. "I don't know if this a copycat thing or not. Maybe road rage is slowing down, and this is going to be a new wrinkle. I hope not. It's like a circle of violence going on. It's scary stuff."

And there's more.

In Methuen yesterday, a 14-year-old boy was arrested after he allegedly sent a female classmate an e-mail in which he vowed to kill her and blow up the high school. The boy was arrested and ordered held without bail for the weekend after pleading not guilty at his arraignment in Lawrence Juvenile Court.

On Monday, Essex County prosecutors will try to persuade a judge that the student should be locked up until trial because he's dangerous.

In New Bedford yesterday, police displayed a sawed-off, double-barreled, .410-caliber shotgun seized from the home of a 15-year-old junior high school student who allegedly had vowed to kill a teacher with his shotgun after he was suspended on March 3.

Earlier this week, the mother surrendered the gun, which her son had allegedly hidden in the basement. "We caught it in the bud, and we hope we prevented something from happening. That's the hope," said New Bedford police Lieutenant Richard Spirlet.

He applauded students and the suspect's mother for cooperating with authorities. "It's a good thing to come forward and say something," he said. "We didn't want it to be a Columbine and all the other places."

Essex District Attorney Kevin M. Burke said yesterday it's unlikely that the sudden surge of school-related incidents will end soon. Spring is coming, he noted, and with it the traditional increase in bomb threats and other acts that used to be considered harmless pranks.

That is no longer the case, he said.

Burke said one solution would be to change state law to allow prosecutors and police greater access to confidential records kept by schools, social workers, and agencies like the state Department of Social Services and the Department of Youth Services.

Burke called for the creation of multidisciplinary teams to share now-confidential information so they can help troubled children before it's too late.

"We don't need any more help in the investigating of crime or dealing with kids," he said. "What we need to do is get into the prevention business."

Marr, the Gloucester chief, said Rockport police are charging a 12-year old boy with threatening the Gloucester middle school girls.

As for the 10-year-old, Marr said one of the people living in the boy's house did have firearms, but they were safely locked away. He said investigators now believe the child's outburst was a behavioral issue that doesn't require law enforcement action.

But Gloucester High School is a continuing concern. Marr beefed up police at the city's only high school after a staff member found a handwritten note in her mailbox that vowed to exceed the violence at Columbine High School in Colorado, where 15 people died.

Gloucester school officials and police investigated and accused Jeremy Cassidy, 18, of writing the note, Marr said.

Cassidy, who was charged with threatening to commit a crime, pleaded not guilty at his District Court arraignment on Wednesday and was released on personal recognizance over the objections of Marr, who wanted Cassidy held on $10,000 cash bail.

Marr said yesterday that he remains deeply concerned about the threats allegedly made by Cassidy and will maintain his intensified patrols at the high school.

"I'm very much concerned about the safety of the school and the kids and what's going on," Marr said, adding that he and Burke's office are searching for a way to get some control over Cassidy's whereabouts.

Cassidy, who has no criminal record, was represented by his father, Gloucester lawyer Brian P. Cassidy. Yesterday, the elder Cassidy declined comment.

Gloucester High School principal Joseph M. Sullivan yesterday said he will meet with special education staff members and Cassidy's parents, whom he described as devoted and attentive to their son, on Monday before deciding the next step. Cassidy has already been suspended for five days.

"Adolescents do some of the dumbest things in the world, and think nothing of it," said Sullivan, who has taught in state prisons and is a retired National Guard colonel. "I don't have any idea why he did it. Hopefully, we will find out on Monday.".

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