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Gun threat at JDHS triggers investigation

Posted: Friday, May 06, 2005

Police are investigating a potential gun threat written on the surfaces of a third-floor girls restroom at Juneau-Douglas High School.

No arrests had been made by late Thursday afternoon, police said.

The message, first noticed a little before 10 a.m. Wednesday, referred to enemies and bringing a gun to school on Thursday, Principal John Norman said. About 200 more students were absent Thursday than on a usual day, he said.

The message - written with a marker on toilet seats, walls and windows - intentionally provided hints to the identity of the student or students who wrote it, he said.

The message did not threaten particular students or ethnic groups, school district authorities said.

Police began investigating the incident Wednesday and continued Thursday, with up to 12 officers involved in the investigation and providing security, said police Lt. Jerry Nankervis.

Administrators from the district's central office also monitored the school. Police will be at the school today, as well, Nankervis said.

Investigators start by trying to track down who might have the most incentive to write the message, he said. With a school with the enrollment of JDHS - roughly 1,600 students - "it is a daunting task," he said.

Some students' lockers were searched, Norman said.

Following the incident, students were required to use only the main doors at JDHS and the Marie Drake annex. The school continued to have an open campus, in which students were free to go outside at lunch.

Teachers reviewed the school's crisis plan Wednesday and Thursday. Norman didn't require teachers to lock their classroom doors during school hours, but some chose to, he said.

"It's been very, very quiet," Norman said during lunch Thursday. "Kids are not locked in, not forced to stay in, but we want to manage movement so if anything happens, we can spot it."

"We take any situation such as this seriously," Superintendent Peggy Cowan said. "We're responding but we're also holding school as usual but doing extra precautions to provide for school safety."

Norman told students Wednesday that the message had been found, that it referred to a gun, and that police would be on campus. He encouraged students to provide information about the culprit or culprits.

"It's not 'narcing' when something like this happens that may injure you or your friends. It's wrong not to," he said he told students.

Some parents are concerned that the district didn't notify them directly.

The school used a parent-run e-mail list to send a message at about 9 p.m. Wednesday, Cowan said. In recent years, an informal parent group has compiled the list, which has 277 subscribers, said group member Gaye Willis.

The e-mail message from Cowan and Norman said: "There was a situation of some concern today at the high school about which you may have heard rumors. A student came to the JDHS office Wednesday mid-morning and indicated there was a threat written on a restroom wall. Administrators responded and the police were called.

"On Thursday, police will be continuing their investigation and monitoring student safety. Students will need to use the main entrances to both JDHS and Marie Drake. The district and police take all situations such as this one seriously."

Thursday's announcements on the school's Web site didn't refer to the incident.

The police notified the media on Thursday morning and said the message "indicated a person or persons unknown was going to bring a gun to school."

Norman, in his regular announcement of school news at 6:45 a.m. Thursday on KINY radio station, spoke about the incident.

About 360 students were absent Thursday, Norman said. Normally, about 160 students are absent.

"I don't really think it's much of a threat," junior Kevin Wilkins said after lunch Thursday. "I haven't seen anyone looking like they have any guns. It's just rumors. A lot of kids are using it as a free ticket out of school. They say they're scared."

But sophomore Doug Farnsworth said, "It's a pretty scary situation. I don't know who to believe."

"The district does a lot of good things," Willis said. "But we need to work on communication more. (The e-mail list) is one solution parents have come up with. To be most effective, we need to spread the word."

Parents who want to sign up for the list can send a blank e-mail to JDHS_Parents-subscribe@yahoogroups.com, Willis said.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.



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