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[whitespace] Westmont and Prospect both report threats of violence

One student arrested for writing threats

Campbell--What began as a threat scribbled on school desks snowballed into rumors of a student with a hit list, who planned to come to school with guns and bombs blazing.

In reality, the 15-year-old Westmont High School student who wrote "Everyone will die on March 21," on two desks didn't own any bombs or guns and told police he'd written it as a joke.

The boy's joke, however, caused a major disturbance at Westmont, sending students and parents into a panic and resulting in the boy's arrest, citation and probable expulsion, Principal Bob Serpa said.

Students discovered the messages on the desks and told their teacher, who in turn told Serpa on March 16, a Friday.

Serpa contacted San Jose Police, who helped the school conduct an investigation the following Monday, March 20. Administrators interviewed students throughout the day and narrowed down a list of suspects. Later in the day, police visited students' homes and finally arrested the 15-year-old boy around 8:30 p.m. on March 19.

The student, whose name was not released because he is a juvenile, was released to his parents.

"I think the Westmont people working with our people did a really good job on it," said Sgt. Steve Dixon.

Serpa said that, despite the school's best efforts to inform parents by printing up fliers and calling homes, 643 of Westmont's 1,600 students didn't show up for school on Tuesday for fear of the rumored gunman. One parent, whom Serpa said had probably been unable to get through the school's busy phone lines, while parents were frantically calling for information, posted a message on a Parent Teacher Student Association website bulletin board. The message said the worst--that a student with a hit list of victims had a planned date for a massacre.

"On Monday, the word spread like wildfire and someone put it on our message board, so we had to phone ringing off the hook," Serpa said. "Pretty soon, there was a rumor that there was a hit list and there were bombs and guns and things. On Tuesday, many parents chose to keep their child at home."

The student who was arrested was very cooperative, Serpa said, and has asserted that he wrote the message as a joke, in a written statement. Police also searched the student's house and did not find anything that led them to believe he would carry out a threat.

Serpa said the boy has been suspended and the administration is beginning the process to have him expelled.

An emergency faculty meeting was called to inform teachers of the facts and Serpa said he talked to students over the PA system about what had occurred.

He said he wants students to understand that these kinds of "jokes" cannot be seen as harmless.

"If they're aware of threats that are verbalized or written, they need to always share that with an adult," Serpa said.

The repercussions of writing the message on the table would, perhaps, not be so harsh if it weren't for recent school violence in Southern California and other school shootings, including Columbine, Serpa said.

"I do agree that a few years ago this would have been dealt with differently, he said. "It makes us greatly concerned. I think that since Columbine, there's a heightened awareness. We need to bring to justice these people that are causing such fear. The young man who wrote the statement on the table--his actions affected our community so much. Obviously, that message did spread a lot of fear. The reality is that with things like this you can't take as a joke or a hoax."

Serpa also voiced concern about a bomb threat that occurred at Prospect High School on March 21.

After nearly two hours of searching for a bomb at Prospect High School and not finding one, Santa Clara County Sherriff's deputies determined that the bomb threat was a hoax.

On March 21, Prospect administrators called the sheriff's office at about 8:25 a.m., saying that someone who sounded like a young male had just called the school about a bomb threat. Deputies and faculty members searched the school until about 10:15 a.m., but found nothing.

Unlike previous bomb hoaxes, law enforcement agents and faculty members didn't tell students and other faculty members to evacuate the buildings at Prospect, because they didn't interpret the situation as one that required an evacuation, Sgt. Robert Linderman of the sheriff's office said. They didn't want to create a panic when there may have not been a threat, and people could've gotten hurt while trying to evacuate, Linderman said.

Sherriff's Deputy Ken Nelson, who filed the report, said there was an ongoing investigation to find the person who made the call. It's a felony to make a bomb threat, real or false, Nelson said. He added that, if deputies had found the culprit, they would have arrested him and dealt with him accordingly.

At least five other schools--A.P. Giannini Middle School in San Francisco, Britton Middle School in Morgan Hill, Las Positas College in Livermore, Mountain View High School and Santa Clara University--received threats of violence that turned out to be hoaxes after Jan. 30. That was the date when police found a stockpile of weapons at 19-year-old Al Joseph DeGuzman's residence in San Jose and said they'd found evidence of a plot to attack De Anza.

The incidents at Britton and Mountain View took place after two students were killed and 13 were injured at a school shooting on March 5 in Santee.

Dixon said that since the shootings in Santee, there have been more than 20 bomb threats to high schools in the San Jose area, but the good news is that 75 percent of the people making the threats are being caught.

Rebecca Ray contributed to this report.
Erin Mayes

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