Originally created 05/30/99

Threats of violence rose after Columbine shootings



The stack of Columbia County police reports paints a disturbing picture of students threatening to kill other students or teachers in the weeks after the Colorado school massacre.

"The rules have changed," Columbia County Sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said. "We are strictly enforcing our no-tolerance policy concerning disruptive behavior."

In the two weeks after the April 20 Columbine High School shooting spree, 18 threats of violence were reported to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office. In all, 37 incidents involving students occurred at Columbia County schools, including threats to bring weapons to school, possession of weapons on campus and disorderly conduct.

Several incidents involved behavior that made direct reference to the Columbine shooting -- including threats with a reference to Columbine, the wearing of black trench coats to school after the shooting and the marking of school property with references to the Columbine shooting.

Of all the incidents, nine Columbia County students were charged with offenses such as terroristic acts or threats, disorderly conduct or having weapons on campus.

By comparison, during a five-week period before the Colorado shooting, only 24 reports were filed with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office. Those covered thefts, disorderly conduct and assaults or damaged property at schools, with only one or two reports of violent threats, Capt. Morris said.

In Richmond County, two arrests have been made since the shooting in connection with weapons and disorderly conduct: One was regarding threats that had direct reference to Columbine, and one regarding a student who wore a trench coat.

Outside the cases with direct reference to the Colorado shooting, there were 13 weapons found on school campuses, and 16 cases in which students are accused of threatening violence against other students or faculty.

"We've had a noticeable increase -- I won't use the word `dramatic' -- in the number of incidents where people made reference to shooting and blowing up each other, the schools and the faculties," said Maj. Mike Farrell, chief of Richmond County's school police. "But along with that, we paid much more attention to those utterances than we would have if Columbine had not happened."

In the month before the Columbine shooting, Richmond County schools had 73 reports of weapons ranging from knives to screwdrivers and even a broom handle. In the same period, the school system had 71 incidents involving fights, with only a few that included threats of deadly violence.

In the last few weeks of the school year, as local school systems strengthened security at schools, the number of incidents has dropped, Capt. Morris said. Students, he said, have gotten the message that disruptive behavior and threats won't be tolerated.

"In the beginning, we were experiencing several reports of disruptive behavior a day," Capt. Morris said. "We now only receive a few reports a week. We firmly believe that some of our students committed acts of disruptive behavior in an effort to draw attention to themselves."

The lasting mark of the Columbine shooting and the shooting at Heritage High School in Conyers, Ga., is the heightened awareness by school officials and law enforcement.

Though schools always have responded to threats to bring weapons to school, principals said other threats are taken more seriously.

"Because of Columbine and because of Heritage High School, I think anytime now when a student says something, we have to take it seriously," Lakeside High School Principal Julius McAnally said. "It's not something we can take lightly anymore."

Columbia County interim schools Superintendent Tommy Price said the times have changed.

"It's always been a situational thing," he said. "But because of what we now see is a tendency to become more violent, we're taking these things more serious."

Peggy Ussery can be reached at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 112, or ussery@augustachronicle.com.