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Virginia shootings raise tension over JM threat

By Mike Dougherty

The Post-Bulletin

A reported threat from a John Marshall High School student on Monday has stirred worries among students and parents in a week that’s been punctuated by a college campus shooting in Virginia and today’s anniversary of the Columbine massacre.

"With the events in Virginia and the history of 4/20, I can understand why people are anxious or nervous," Rick Stirn, the school’s principal. Stirn said. "But people will see that the campus is in a mode that’s pretty secure."

At John Marshall this morning, normal security procedures were in place, except for increased vigilance by staff members about locked doors and the high school’s police liaison officer planned to be present on campus the entire day, Stirn said.

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Starting two days ago, school officials took the extra step of sending automatic phone messages to every student’s home phone. The message from Stirn said that a student had made a threat, that it was handled, and that there were many rumors circulating. He also noted that the student who made the threat will not be on campus today.

The threat stemmed from a confrontation involving three students on campus. One boy threatened two others, and the boy was disciplined, Stirn said. "He will not be in school."

Stirn said parents of the student who made the threat have been very cooperative with the school in dealing with the issue.

The school’s phone message was sent in the wake of rumors that had been circulating through e-mail and through student Web sites, such as MySpace and Facebook. A number of parents this week contacted the Post-Bulletin, concerned that the student had threatened to kill people today, the anniversary of the Columbine massacre in Colorado in 1999. Some said a "hit list" existed, but Stirn said that was not the case.

There was more absenteeism than usual at JM today, the principal said this morning. However, students previously were scheduled to be released early from classes, he said. Today also had been designated by some JM students as "Senior Skip Day," a student-declared holiday that is not recognized by school authorities.

Jacque Peterson, an elementary and secondary education administrator with the Rochester School District, said John Marshall officials worked this week to assess the threats and took action to keep the student at home.

"In this case, we do have a student who made a threat; there was police involvement; there was cooperation of the parents," Peterson said.

Rochester Police Sgt. Eli Umpierre, who noted the JM liaison officer handled the issue, said the process worked how they envisioned it.

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"It all worked how it should," she said. "There was a rumor of some things, and everyone’s talking. People dealt with it how we hoped they would. We want people to talk and contact us if they hear something suspicious or alarming."

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