By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — Security protocols have been stepped up at the city’s schools in response to new rumors about threats involving friends of 17-year-old Jacob Butze-Maille, who was arrested last week for allegedly making a “Columbine” type threat at the high school.
In addition, officials said yesterday they plan to maintain a heightened alert through next week following the massacre yesterday at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Police Chief Joseph Solomon said yesterday that the new rumors at the high school spread via Facebook, Twitter and text messages among teenagers and parents, were “absolutely 100 percent unfounded.” Solomon said his department investigated the rumors Thursday night and into yesterday morning.
“We tracked them down and every single investigation we started have all proved untrue,” Solomon said.
He, Superintendent Judith Scannell and Mayor Stephen Zanni determined that the schools should have extra security at least until winter break begins the end of next week.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we put extra protocols in place yesterday and today,” Solomon said.
He and Scannell said they investigate every report of a threat, but have to walk a fine line when communicating with parents and students.
“If you say there’s no truth to this, but we’re telling you about this, it sounds like there’s truth to it,” Solomon said.
High school and school administration officials talked to high school students Thursday afternoon and yesterday morning about the rumors, and asked students to keep their phones stowed and refrain from texting or posting on social media sites in an effort to tamp down the rumor.
“The last two days have been quite calm and smooth,” said high school Principal James Giuca.
Superintendent Scannell said at yesterday’s briefing that the administration sent an automated phone message to parents Thursday evening about the rumors and planned to send another last night.
But worried parents posted questions on the Methuen Police Department’s Facebook page yesterday afternoon, just as details about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting began to emerge, about the extra police presence they spotted at the schools and about new rumors they heard. One parent asked about a man in the woods near Comprehensive Grammar School.
Solomon said last night police determined there was a student with spiky hair walking in the woods, but no adult and no threat to the school. The extra officers at CGS were part of the stepped up security, which was supposed to be discreet, at every school in the city.
The rumor Thursday centered around Butze-Maille who was arrested Dec. 6 after police said he said told a female student he wanted to shoot up the high school and threatened her if she told anyone.
While Scannell and Solomon said they did not want to lend credence to rumors, they wanted to emphasize they take any rumors seriously and investigate each claim every time.
“We have to take every threat as if it’s real,” Solomon said.
Butze-Maille was arraigned on charges of threatening to commit murder, intimidation of a witness, and willfully communicating a threat concerning a dangerous item. He is being held without bail until his next hearing on Jan. 4.
At a news conference Dec. 7, Scannell said, “We do not tolerate threats, period.” She and Solomon emphasized that point again yesterday.
“We don’t have a choice. That’s the way the world is now. We have to take everything seriously,” Scannell said.
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