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When it comes to threats, sadly, times have changed

March 2, 2012
Salem News

For years, our newsroom had a long-standing policy against publicizing something that inevitably occurred every spring. Just like birds returning from the south and flowers blooming come springtime, some prank-minded kid(s) would call in a "bomb" threat to a high school.

It was kind of spring fever thing. Buildings would be emptied. Classes would be interrupted and sometimes even canceled. All in the name of tomfoolery. After the "bomb" threat, kids would stand in the school parking lot yukking it up until getting, naturally, a coast is clear sign, and being ordered by teachers to return to class. At least until the next fake bomb threat. All in the name of high jinks - perhaps devilishly devised by a direct relative of Ferris Bueller himself.

We did not publicize this stuff because they were pranks - thankfully no bombs were ever discovered. Not that anyone expected to find any. Also, we did not want to encourage copycats who, in turn, would want to call a bomb threat into their own schools to see if that too would get newspaper coverage the next day. And, presumably, affording an opportunity for even more yukking it up at the expense of the adults, authority figures, and, yes, newspapers. You get the idea.

That all changed with Columbine. Threats of any kind are taken seriously and dutifully reported on our pages. We did that just yesterday.

On our front page we reported a United Local student being taken into custody by sheriff's deputies. He reportedly made a threat about having a gun at school. This is never good and making it worse, of course, was that the Chardon tragedy happened just two days earlier.

United Local administrators reacted accordingly upon hearing the threat. Superintendent RuthAnn Rinto called in the law even after determining that there wasn't a gun. Just a threat. Like those "bomb" threats in the past. But times have changed. These days many threats become reality and they often start with just a few spoken or, nowadays, posted words on some troubled kid's Facebook.

Credit Rinto for quickly reacting. Credit the student who heard the threat and correctly acted in reporting it. A sad reality is that tragedies such as Chardon likely will happen again somewhere. It is the world we live in. As a reader put it:?"Like you say, it can happen anywhere, but with that picturesque town square and those maple sugar festivals, the town seemed so safe - like Pleasantville, USA." But it wasn't. At least not completely. That was proven Monday when execution-style killings took place in a high school cafeteria of all places. That's the truth. Can anyone honestly and completely guarantee that what happened in Chardon will never happen in Salem? Or Lisbon or Leetonia or anywhere else??We all know the answer to that one. Pray that it won't happen? Absolutely. Guarantee it won't? No. You just can't with full certitude. How safe is a school bus full of little kids against some whack job intent on harm? Yeah go ahead and shiver while pondering that.

The authorities reacted quickly in Chardon. But it was just that: a reaction. The action was a disturbed youth strolling into a cafeteria and opening fire. How do you realistically prevent that action from happening again short of metal detectors at each and every school entrance and complete shakedowns of students each and every day? That is the scary part.

Unlike past days with the mischievous but essentially harmless jokers and their "bomb" threats, everything has to be taken seriously. United Local did just that. We like to think we did just that too in reporting it on our front page. Let's hope it will be the last time. But, sigh, probably not.



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